If You Had To Choose, Would You Rather Be Dominated By America Or China?
First of all, why am I asking this question?
Well, there are two main reasons. One is the environmental disaster we are facing, the greater part of the blame for which lies at the feet of international capitalist corporations. The other reason is the future of AI. We could have that future unregulated, as happens in America, or we could have it regulated, as happens in China. To most, if not all Westerners reading this, the answer seems obvious. Who would want to be dominated by the hard-line, dogmatic, secretive Chinese Communist Party? Wouldn’t it be better to accept the downside of American style political freedom, even though that ethic is presently laying the foundation for the destruction of the natural environment? If we had to make a choice between the world’s two major powers, surely it would be better to be dominated by America.
Or would it?
The inescapable downside of market-style economics – built on the exploitation of workers and of the environment, on advertising methods which use brutal psychological methods, and on an economic model that explicitly ignores the fact that all growth must have a natural limit – is that there is no political or social force, organisation or procedure which can bring human beings together in order to make the decisions that need to be made. For all the fantastic work of the NGO environmental organisations, of people such as the exceptional David Attenborough and Chris Packham, and of individuals doing their best to recycle plastic etc, there is no substitute for planned, deliberate, insightful, large-scale action. In other words, corporations that in effect are unregulated and destroying the planet can continue their despoliation in freedom. There is no way for Westerners to come together to stop them – or even to diminish them. Modern politics is useless. Even the Labour Party, as was shown by Blair when he stepped up to the mark, cannot change the fundamentals of capitalist economics. Labour under Blair was Tory-lite. They could not change the system. They did not want to. They didn’t see that the system was unfit for purpose.
If Jeremy Corbyn gets into power he will face exactly this problem. Our culture, both economic, social and media, works on a number of assumptions, all of which promote unregulated corporate activity. The moment Corbyn tries to do anything against that culture he will face a barrage of opposition, from his own party, from the media, and from people – including most of his supporters – generally. His hands will be tied. He is not conscience-lite, as Blair was; he will face conflict, and fail. People will say he is a PM out of touch, when in fact that comment should be applied to the entire political system.
And yet, America has it far worse. America is the main source of this modern corporate, capitalist ethic. The Western world is dominated by American values, to its considerable detriment. Am I then suggesting that the Chinese Politburo is better?
Well, the Chinese Communist Party has one notable advantage over Western democracies. Should they want to, they can act on behalf of the Chinese nation to ameliorate the damage presently being wreaked on the environment by the ‘Chinese economic miracle.’ Realisation has dawned in China that the consequences of massive economic growth are bad. Very bad. And the Chinese, lacking the absurd Christian notion that human beings are permitted to exploit the environment, and are even told to by their ‘god,’ have a different attitude to nature. Most Chinese are Taoists or Buddhists. Taoism and Buddhism have a profoundly different attitude to nature than Christianity. Although one of the innumerable mistakes made by Mao, and indeed by all Communists, was to believe the Leninist idea that atheism would take over from religion, in fact the human species is nowhere near mature enough to relinquish its reliance on religion and spirituality. Therefore, most Chinese practice their beliefs as a kind of ‘folk religion’ or similar spirituality, and the CCP does not mind that. Part of Xi Jinping’s ‘Chinese Dream’ in fact is to promote the ideas of Confucius and Han Fei. Chinese attitudes to nature live on, and are epitomised by aspects of their many cultures.
People in the West have assumed the ethical superiority of democracy because they are individualistic and because they are arrogant, i.e. narcissistic. In the East, society is envisaged as a whole, where that whole is more important than individuals. They lack our emphasis on individualism. Eastern societies are founded on profound narcissism – totalitarian or dictatorial, misogynistic, hierarchical – so in that respect East and West are equally bad. The West is careless and ignorant. The East is authoritarian and ignorant. But the Chinese could do something about the environmental crisis faced by the world, and that is my point. The Chinese do not see democracy as a natural end point in human social and political development. Perhaps we should not also. We presume the existence of the invisible hand of Adam Smith. The Chinese hand is visible.
Many commentators – including the outstanding Guardian columnist George Monbiot – link the fight for democracy with the urgency of the environmental crisis we are facing. In a recent piece he wrote: ‘Decades of institutional failure ensures that only “unrealistic” proposals – the repurposing of economic life, with immediate effect – now have a realistic chance of stopping the planetary death spiral. And only those who stand outside the failed institutions can lead this effort… Because we cannot save ourselves without contesting oligarchic control, the fight for democracy and justice and the fight against environmental breakdown are one and the same. Do not allow those who have caused this crisis to define the limits of political action. Do not allow those whose magical thinking got us into this mess to tell us what can and cannot be done.’ But if oligarchic control is contested, then removed, what institutions will organise people to the extent that is required? This is a fundamental problem of the West, which I think Monbiot avoids in his piece. I agree with him that change from inside political systems is either far too slow or a complete waste of time (the subject of my as yet unpublished work Woodland Revolution) but the question of what replaces them then appears. Could an Eastern kind of politics be the answer, however much that repulses Western democrats?
So, to return to my original question. We face global environmental disaster. In the West there is no process or organisation which can act quickly enough to combat it, because we live in a world of what are in effect unregulated corporations whose only interest is to exploit. Politics here is a complete waste of effort – decades behind the times. In the East, a method exists for determined, deliberate action, albeit at a cost to that individualism assumed by the West.
Therefore, when I ask myself, given the choice would I rather be dominated by America or by China, my answer is China.