Don't call it a spade
Mistakes happen for a reason
So the news from last week were how China changed the constitution and abolished term limits in the only thing that had term limits; the presidency. This was followed by the USG propaganda apparatus (AKA the press) going into fits of panic. “We got China wrong”, they say. It took China changing its constitution without American permission for Americans to notice that they got China wrong.
What did they get wrong? China was dirt-poor in 1980. Really, really poor. It would have likely remained quite poor if USG hadn’t decided to open trade relations with China, having them join WTO and all that. The theory, now stated openly, was that economic growth would eventually lead to the formation of a middle class, and that middle class would then agitate for democracy; a democratic China would naturally be a jolly good thing, aligned with USG’s interests (also known as “Western values”).
I don’t quite see how that last line follows. Democratic politics doesn’t correlate with “Western values” well at all. Look at Turkey or Iran. What does correlate with Western values is proximity of US military bases: that correlates pretty damn close. It also happens that proximity of US military bases correlates to some degree with democratic politics. But the causality starts with US tanks, not with democratic politics.
At any rate, Scientism on Twitter had a good elaboration of what it means that “we got China wrong”. What did USG really think? Was it just the latest iteration of the Whig theory of Democratic Development, whereby democracy happened because of the rising incomes in the 19th century empowering the bourgeoisie into fighting against the royal houses of Europe for political rights? No, of course not. Nobody reads history anymore. Certainly not people in the American corridors of power. Whig history is stupid; but our ruling class today doesn’t know Whig history anymore. What they know is a degraded version of Whig history as remembered by the guys on Wall Street, who have some faint recollection of reading about it in Harvard; but that was a long time and many many hangovers ago.
So the idea is that trade with China was a good idea because it was thought that China would always be poor, so the USA could always enjoy a sort of advantageous colonial relationship with Chinese factories. I can totally imagine some Goldman Sachs guy selling that to Clinton-Bush-Blair and those guys believing it hook, line and sinker. And the State Department QUANGO apparatchiks who had actually read the Whig theory of history could, on their end, support that thinking on all the opportunities for bioleninist missionary work. 1 billion souls to
That, of course, didn’t work out. China grew richer than anybody thought it would, it didn’t quite open up politically as fast as people thought it would, since 2012 it has instead closed up quite fast, and this closing up has not affected its economic might in the slightest. Yes, guys, you got it wrong.
The interesting thing about the recent media trends pressing for hostility to China is that it’s a completely bipartisan point. The Left is extremely disappointed that China won’t let them preach the supremacy of women, Africans and homosexuals in China; and the right is just pissed at the loss of American supremacy. See Pat Buchanan in this article.
The article is pretty lame; first in how it makes an analogy to WW2 in order to peddle more of Buchanan’s book shitting on Churchill. We get it, Pat, you want us to buy your book. It is also lame in the whole tone of the article. It just states, in very strong terms, that We Got it Wrong. We Got it Wrong guys! Very wrong! Mistaken we were!
Well, ok, but why? How did this mistake happen? He of course does no attempt at explaining. Because his job, the job of Pat Buchanan is to be a conservative, and the job of conservatives is not to understand a thing. The job of conservatives is, and has been for decades, to state their confusion with a tone of strong indignation. I don’t understand this! Hmm! I am angry, yes I am, this makes no sense, and that makes me angry. Join me in my indignation, oh and buy my book. Hmph!
Well as I often say, if you don’t get something, that’s a statement about the limits of your intellect rather than about the nature of the problem. If you don’t get something, the problem is with you, not with the issue. Go try and understand it, and then come back. Your indignation solves exactly nothing.
That is of course my instinctive reaction, but I of course also do understand the meta quality of these kinds of statements. Speaking as a linguist, most instances of the string “I just don’t get it” are not meant to state a lack of understanding; they are a way of signaling a political position. The underlying argument is “I just don’t get it because I don’t think that way, and I don’t think that way because I am a proper person whose thinking only works inside certain limits, as is proper and just. I only think as people in the ingroup think”. Understanding how the outgroup thinks is evil. You’re not supposed to go and try to know what’s going on. You’re supposed to just not get it. And to loudly proclaim it.
This incidentally is a human universal. All languages I know have “I just don’t get it!” as a short-hand for ingroup allegiance signaling.
Which leads me to this article by Scott Alexander. He elaborates on an idea by one of his ingroup about their being two ways of looking at things, “mistake theory” and “conflict theory”. Mistake theory claims that political opposition comes from a different understanding of issues: if people had the same amount of knowledge and proper theories to explain it, they would necessarily agree. Conflict theory states that people disagree because their interests conflict, the conflict is zero-sum so there’s no reason to agree, the only question is how to resolve the conflict.
I was speechless. I am quite used to Mr. Alexander and his crowd missing the point on purpose, but this was just too much. Mistake theory and Conflict theory are not parallel things. “Mistake theory” is just the natural, tribalist way of thinking. It assumes an ingroup, it assumes the ingroup has a codified way of thinking about things, and it interprets all disagreement as a lack of understanding of the obviously objective and universal truths of the ingroup religion. There is a reason why liberals call “ignorant” all those who disagree with them. Christians used to be rather more charitable on this front and asked for “faith”, which they also assumed was difficult to achieve.
Conflict theory is one of the great achievements of the human intellect; it is an objective, useful and predictively powerful way of analyzing human disagreement. There is a reason why Marxist historiography revolutionized the world and is still with us: Marx made a strong point that human history was based on conflict. Which is true. It is tautologically true. If you understand evolution it stands to reason that all social life is about conflict. The fight for genetical survival is ultimately zero-sum, and even in those short periods of abundance when it is not, the fight for mating supremacy is very much zero-sum, and we are all very much aware of that today. Marx focused on class struggle for political reasons, which is wrong, but his focus on conflict was a gust of fresh air for those who enjoy objective analysis.
Incidentally the early Chinese thinkers understood conflict theory very well, which is why Chinese civilization is still around, the oldest on earth. A proper understanding of conflict does not come without its drawbacks, though. Mistakes happen for a reason. Pat Buchanan actually does understand why USG open the doors to trade with China. Yes, Whig history was part of it, but that’s just the rhetoric used to justify the idea. The actual motivation to trade with China was making money short term. Lots of money. Many in the Western elite have made huge amounts of money with the China trade. Money that conveniently was funneled to whichever political channels it had to do in order to keep the China trade going. Even without Whig history, even without the clueless idea that China would never become a political great power, the short-term profits to be made were big enough to capture the political process in the West and push for it. Countries don’t have interests: people do.
That is true, and should be obvious, but there are dangers to the realization. There’s a reason why people dislike cynics. People don’t want to know the truth. It’s hard to coordinate around the truth, especially when the truth is that humans are selfish assholes constantly in conflict. Mistakes happen because people find it convenient to hide the truth; and “mistake theory” happens because policing the ingroup patterns of thought, limiting the capability of people of knowing too much, is politically useful. The early Chinese kingdoms developed a very sophisticated way of analyzing objective reality. The early kingdoms were also full of constant warfare, rebellions and elite betrayals; all of which went on until the introduction in the 13th century of a state ideology (neoconfucianism) based on complete humbug and a massively unrealistic theory on human nature. Roman literature is refreshingly objective and to the point. Romans were also murderous bastards who assassinated each other all the time. It took the massive pile of nonsense which we call the Christian canon to get Europeans to cooperate in a semi-stable basis.
But guess what? Conflict theory also exists for a reason. And the reason is to extricate oneself from the ingroup, to see things how they actually are, and to undermine the state religion from the outside. Marxists came up with conflict theory because they knew they had little to expect from fighting from within the system. Those low-status workers who still regarded their mainstream society as being the ingroup they very sharply called “alienated”, and by using conflict theory they showed what the ingroup ideology was actually made of. Pat Buchanan and his cuck friends should take the message and stop assuming that the elite is playing for the same team as they are. The global elite, of America and its vassals, is not mistaken. They are playing for themselves: to raise their status above yours, to drop their potential rivals into eternal misery and to rule forever over them. China, Syria, and everything else, is about that.