Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Chinese world domination is not far off, a theme I normally come around to when I’ve had too much to drink or, in some cases, not enough to drink.


The United States of America has overshadowed all our lives. It is not just its financial and military muscle – in almost every sphere of human activity America’s dominance has dwarfed that of any other country in a way that even Victorian Britain was unable to achieve, especially in its hold on popular culture. Had a US city hosting the Olympics presented its national story in its opening ceremony it would have been instantly intelligible to much of the rest of the world; the opening to London’s Olympics was baffling to foreigners.
And yet over the next few decades America’s global domination will be challenged in a way that it has not been since it came to pre-eminence a century ago.

The BBC’s man in China has a piece on what Chinese domination will mean to the world. He cites pollution, the growth of Mandarin (and other elements of soft power), a new space race, and fewer elephants and tigers. There will also be a lot more Chinese tourists, especially to France, which the Chinese have an obsession with (they better keep their hands off the Dordogne, is all I’m saying).
But there are two trends that make China’s growing power somewhat disturbing. Firstly, sex. In the 1980s cheap ultrasound technology spread across rural India and China, allowing people to identify the sex of an unborn child for the first time, at a time when China was instigating a one-child policy. As a result both countries have enormous shortfalls of women, and the cohort that first experienced gendercide have reached the age when men start taking an interest in the opposite sex and, if they aren’t available, bad poetry or violence.

In China political turbulence has historically been caused by “bare branches”, men unable to find available women. How will the country deal with this problem?
Secondly, as Gary Sheffield observed in Forgotten Victory, major conflicts have usually arisen during a period of transition from one power to the next. The 18th century wars took place when Britain overtook France as Europe’s leading power, and the First World War as both were giving way to Germany. In both these cases the rival powers had different economic and political systems. Will America’s wane and China’s rise be peaceful, especially as the former owes the latter about 100 gazillion dollars?
And this is not just a shift in state power but in civilisational dominance. European civilisation has not faced any serious political or military rivals for several hundred years, and this has helped create the illusion that Western values, which have come to shape the world and which found concrete form in the UN’s Declaration of Human Rights, are necessarily universal.

 But our politics derives from specifically Western ideas about the individual with its emphasis on guilt, ideas which are not so central to Chinese culture. Perhaps their politics will become Westernised, perhaps not. (One assumes that as a middle class reaches a critical mass some form of democracy will emerge).
In recent years this emphasis on guilt and the individual has turned our intellectual life to a victim-centred politics of the unachievable, and in particular the pursuit of equality. Grandiose debates about “erasing child poverty” (ie inequality), creating gender equality in the boardroom, or ending educational inequality (while
China’s PISA scores race ahead) are a product of a civilisation that has conquered all the serious threats. Modern liberalism is like type 2 diabetes or heart disease – a harmful side effect of a pleasant modern lifestyle, although obviously far better than what we used to put up with.

This worldview revolves around the notion of a world of oppressors and victims, the latter being the poor, women, minorities and gays/lesbians, the former powerful white males; because of this these ideas tend to get confused when confronted with outside civilisations, where traditional victims are often oppressors and where Western ideas of the individual are alien. The Left, in other words, is a product of white male privilege, and while the Muslim world may be a rival in some ways, its poverty ensures that its people retain victim status in Western eyes (especially, of course, the Palestinians) and are therefore not treated as equals. China is different, and Chinese dominance is bound to change our politics in countless ways.
Anyway, someone call me a taxi.

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