Wednesday, June 19, 2019

China's rationalizations for hostility and "clash of civilizations"

Elsewhere I’ve dissected a recent trend of Chinese authorities: issuing intellectual rationalizations to justify absolute, centralized rule. See “Central Control over AI... and everything else,” where I appraise the incantations now pouring from Tsingua University and other PRC academies, proclaiming that only top-down control by a paramount hierarchy – one dedicated to neo-adjusted and constantly re-defined Marxist principles – can possibly prevent rogue or deleterious AI…

...or provide care for a population facing technological unemployment…
...or solve environmental degradation...
...or confront dozens of other modern/future ills. These memes are pushed not only at all levels of internal Chinese media, but also upon the 300,000+ Chinese nationals who are students at U.S. universities, compelled to report-to and attend indoctrination sessions at nearby Confucius Institutes.

This tsunami of rationalization and control is dangerous enough when combined with another doctrine – that westerners are too stupid to control their bourgeois appetites and hence all predatory mercantilist practices are justified, the way a farmer can make use of dumb herd animals. (This applies to both U.S. consumers and the CEOs of western companies, who eagerly bare their necks in exchange for the allure of minuscule China market shares.)

But it is the final, volatile layer -- a relentless drumbeat of resentment propaganda blaming all of China’s past ills upon western – especially American – colonialism, that completes a chowmein of toxic memes. Together, they comprise a recipe for disaster. 

To be clear, this concoction is clever in many ways. It reflects the pure fact that the current PRC leadership clade is smart… nearly all are former engineers. Indeed, they are perhaps 10% as smart as they think they are, which is damned smart! One helluva lot smarter than America’s current leader-caste. But in a way, that is the point. 

This is not a clash of leaders, but of systems. Moreover the biggest danger to us all lies in the fundamentally delusional insanity of centralized, authoritarian/hierarchical rule.

== The same pattern, over and over ==

I’ve spoken elsewhere and often about the lesson of 60 centuries of human history – that gangs of large males will pick up cudgels and beat society into a pyramid of inherited privilege. Yes, this serves to benefit their sons, but it also leads to deluded statecraft. Even brilliant kings and oligarchies are inevitably followed by disastrous ones. That lesson is apparent across five continents and 6000 years, in the litany of mistakes and horrors called “history.”

Dialing in, just two of China’s paramount leaders illustrate what’s wrong with self-justified, autocratic government… the Dowager Empress Cixi who died in 1908, after wrecking any chance of a Meiji-style modernization, and Mao Zedong, whose successive endeavors – purging all non-communists, the Korean War, the Great Leap Forward, the Four Pests campaign, the Hundred Flowers Trap, and the Cultural Revolution were calamitous examples of unquestioned authoritarianism wedded to obstinate maladministration, incredible blunders enforced with utter ferocity. 

Those two paramount leaders were as catastrophic for China as anything wrought by Europe, Russia, Japan (but not America) via colonialism. Moreover, they weren’t exceptions. Across 3000 years, only rarely was the Central Kingdom’s model of governance any different. 

I recently read a short essay by Mao - “Combat Liberalism” - that is especially crisp and instructive. In it, Mao concisely displays his laser focus and brilliance, slashing at every Western notion of reciprocal tolerance, diversity of viewpoint, pragmatic negotiation, flat hierarchies, individual rights, accountability, voluntary cooperation and open-ended/creative competition. As in more recent works by the Unabomber – Theodore Kaczynski – Mao is clear-eyed and open in describing what he hates about liberal modernism. “We stand for active ideological struggle because it is the weapon for ensuring unity within the Party and the revolutionary organizations in the interest of our fight.”

A few of his strictures are sensible, like denouncing gossip. (Indeed, traditional Chinese Confucianism preaches many wise virtues for despots to rule better than their peers; still atrociously, but slightly better, much as chivalry and catholicism were supposed to moderate feudalism, in the west.) And yet, for the most part, Mao’s doctrines can be summarized as follows: attack fiercely any non-conformity to party dogma, even as that dogma changes; don’t tolerate any diversity of view; obey and conform your thoughts to party discipline.

“Liberalism is extremely harmful in a revolutionary collective. It is a corrosive which eats away unity, undermines cohesion, causes apathy and creates dissension. It robs the revolutionary ranks of compact organization and strict discipline, prevents policies from being carried through and alienates the Party organizations from the masses which the Party leads.”

Mao intelligently surveys what you and I would call the strengths of liberalism, traits that liberal democracies exploited to grow, to innovate and discover/correct errors. These include: freedom of speech, diversity, voluntary-cooperation, fair-competition, extended negotiation, pragmatism, individualism, encouraging brashly-critical confidence in the young, and fostering vast pools of liberated talent. Only Mao denounces all of these as indulgences, sapping the ferocious, unified purpose of a single-minded party. A centralized entity that we would call… well… hive-like. A society of ants or bees.

Gosh, we humans are capable of such amazing dissonance! In abstract, it’s a dichotomy that should be subject to scientific falsifiability through evidence, were that not yet another bourgeois-liberal value.

What we’re witnessing is a fascinating rift over human destiny that appears to be zero-sum, either-or. For indeed, liberalism cannot survive in Mao's world, and in a successful liberal society Maoism becomes a quaint campus fad -- a pickup rant at parties.

Moreover, this dichotomy raises questions on a much broader scale, including the Fermi Paradox! For example: which approach seems more likely to have prevailed on millions of worlds out there, anywhere that sapient life built civilizations?

And which path seems more likely to evade the countless traps, pits and minefields that must be crossed, in order to attain the stars?

Well, well. Let’s stay closer to Earth. Because we know the real answer here. Mao’s approach – centralizing ferocious power and repressing all deviance, then concocting rationalizations to call this good, is not new. Nor is it (except in certain persistent styles) particularly Chinese or Marxist! It is the boring pattern that erupted nearly everywhere that humans achieved agriculture. 

The experimental evidence is before our eyes. Those who use priestly dogma-incantations to justify hierarchical-oligarchic rule – whether by kings, lords, priests or commissars – bear a burden of proof that it ever worked well over multi-generation scales. Or that any fifty such hierarchies accomplished – combined – what liberalism has, while gradually spreading ever-wider its horizons of inclusion, across just the last 200 years.

== The Trade War means ==

You think I exaggerated, above? Bill Bishop, at Axios and Sinocism, provides a wealth of links and insights about the Central Kingdom. In one of his newsletters, he cites, several well-known hawks who have been quite vocal in their desire to see trade talks fail:

"I very much hope that the negotiations will break down," said Dai Xu, a professor at China's National Defence University and a retired air force colonel.  "Once the negotiations are over, the United States will be finished, for sure...we kick out all the American companies and bring all of ours back....No way will Trump be re-elected."

"The US openly sees us as their biggest enemy," said Tan Yungang, an air force colonel. "The United States will block China more than they did the former Soviet Union."

"Chinese people need to have backbone," said Prof Dai. "I am very opposed to one of our traditional concepts, which is that no matter how much others have hurt China, we are educated to forget...what's the meaning of remembering the history without the hatred? It's meaningless."

Not all voices are uniformly hostile. Da Wei, Assistant President and Professor at the University of International Relations in Beijing, says there may be a way to avoid a new type of Cold War, but adds a pessimistic scenario if we have one "I think it is a comprehensive confrontation...If that happens it will last for quite a long time. That's a tragedy for everyone" 

And again, I strongly recommend folks out there read Frederik Pohl’s prescient novel THE COOL WAR.

== A clash of civilizations? Or models for Star Trek? ==

Again, I've got no problems with the neo-communist People's Republic of China and the liberal United States of America vying as models for future humanosphere culture. Indeed, I expect the average, baseline human in 2200 to have somewhat Asiatic features and for Chinese to be one of our top languages. It's not about nations per se, but models for individual psychology and social governance. Across all of history, for 6000 years, the model in 99% of agricultural societies was a pyramid of command by a few, who cheated to ensure limitations on competition by the sons and daughters of the poor, and who then had court priests concoct rationalizations for why the mandate of heaven must be vested in all-powerful top authoritarians.

Of all the world's pyramidal cultures, China's was probably the least awful, in that there were systems ensuring a little meritocratic rise. A future human civilization based on the Chinese model might reach ecological balance and make some progress... but it would remain power-biased (imperial) and insistent upon conformity. Even if the end result is consensus-benevolent (and history shows no examples), it will emphasize homogeneity, not agility. Instead of the stars, we will get hives.

Ours is the best ever version of a diamond-shaped society, designed to limit cheating, foster diverse questioning and maximize the number of capable competitors in any field. Periclean Athens and Florence were other rare examples -- vastly more creative, but with one glaring disadvantage. Liberal experiments are inherently unstable and vulnerable to innovative cheaters, requiring constant tweaking of the regulatory systems to evade mob populism or oligarchic putsches.

Several times, American generations rose to meet that challenge. If we fail this time, perhaps liberalism is fatally flawed.

Were this all there is, to Sino-West competition, I'd say let the games commence. Alas, the PRC leadership uses their sovereignty as a base of operations for cheating.  Worse, they justify their behavior by stirring nationalistic wrath in the population, based on exaggerations or outright lies...

...which is why I deem vital that we take on the polemical front. I know a few meme-zingers that could be useful there. But their best effectiveness requires deployment at the right time and place, by the right messenger. And I am not the one. Nor is this the time or place.

Again, I summed up how the PRC Politburo has its state theoreticians busy justifying why only a centralized communist central committee can possibly guide humanity into the future that faces dangers like uncontrolled Artificial Intelligence and automation-generated unemployment.  The rationalizations of scholars like Feng Xiang are very smart... worth reading... and ultimately spectacularly false.

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== ADDENDA ==

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1. For some big picture from another angle, see Jiayang Fan’s fascinating article on China's superstar science fiction author Liu Cixin, his epic trilogy, and on the future and the rise of science fiction in China – and across the world.  My family hosted him at our home. We did not press him re political matters, as this writer did. But the mix of optimism and fatalism we all observed is most-telling. As is Da Liu's (at least official) opinion that today's  PRC leadership has no other choice -- it is forced to be all-controlling, lest chaos ensue.

To be clear, I understand Da Liu's perspective. Certainly the fierce One Child Policy, which may have saved the world, could not have happened in a democracy (as Rajiv Gandhi discovered, when he tried something like it, in India). On the other hand, where do you draw the line?  Twenty-five years ago, I thought China planned to do a staged loosening, starting down at the level of towns and cities, allowing a vigorous and open civil society to deliver the synergies of freedom (e.g. using light to root out corruption) in local governance, while retaining control nationally. Then, a decade later, this loosening would spread to provincial governments, and so on.  A social contract that might have engendered patience with clear rewards. It's what the commissars would do, if they were sincere, if their freinds-to-the-workers rationalizations were true. Alas, it is not what they are doing.

2. The clear answer to the Confucius Institute tactic is simple. Require all US undergrad and graduate students to take one class in civics. Just one light survey of constitutional and legal processes and how things work in a society that has rule-of-law. (Stuff our own students should be learning anyway and that would help them start or run a business.) No matter how sullen or superficially resentful of this requirement those 300,000+ Chinese students might act, for their handlers, most would return home thoroughly "infected" with such values, asking "why can't we have rule-of-law, too? And that memic infection will be more valuable, in the long run, than any amount of intellectual property that gets stolen from us.

3. Here's a fascinating on the scene description and here are mind-blowing composite crowd images of how 2 million people - 27% of the population of Hong Kong - thronged the streets a few days ago to protest and - at least for now - kill the infamous Extradition Bill and show young people all across China what's possible, with guts and brains and luck. Whatever victories the PRC achieves against the West - in loose alliance with the separate Putin-Saudi-mafiosi-Fox cabal - they are happening via skullduggerous methods that may turn and bite them. Whereas the failure mode they fear is legitimate expression and achievement of the will of the people. No wonder they feel a hot breath of time that is not on their side. 

Their worldwide oligarchic putsch - in conjunction with western quislings - has made great strides. Their confederate puppets took Washington. But our strengths are gathering. And Oswald Spengler was wrong about the Decline of the West.

40 comments:

Alan Brooks said...

Sino-greenwashing

David Brin said...

Followup, see Jiayang Fan’s fascinating article on Remembrance of Earth’s Past, Liu Cixin’s epic trilogy and on the future and the rise of science fiction in China – and across the world.

https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2019/06/24/liu-cixins-war-of-the-worlds?utm_campaign=aud-dev&utm_source=nl&utm_brand=tny&utm_mailing=TNY_Daily_061819&utm_medium=email&bxid=5be9ca2c2ddf9c72dc174412&cndid=48613135&esrc=&utm_content=A&utm_term=TNY_Daily

scidata said...

"the core of science fiction - its essence - has become crucial to our salvation, if we are to be saved at all"
- Isaac Asimov

And don't get me started on Jules Verne. This stuff changes lives and alters the course of nations. Not exactly sure why, but well, there it is.

Larry Hart said...

What should be obvious even to the most obtuse by now:

https://www.chicagotribune.com/columns/steve-chapman/ct-column-trump-iran-nuclear-tankers-20190619-b6p4fbistbb3bbdzdizyqrmcm4-story.html

...

The 2015 pact signed by Obama was designed to keep Iran at least a year away from being able to make a nuclear bomb. Trump killed the deal because it would allow Iran to escape these constraints in 2031. By killing the deal, he allowed Iran to escape right away.

...

Larry Hart said...

Tony Fisk under the previous post:

One of the methods used by British Intelligence to obtain the daily Enigma code keys was as simple as checking the highly predictable forecasts from German weather stations, ...


There's a historical novel by Robert Harris called Enigma which uses a lot of that material as backstory. Although the plot of the book is fiction, the backdrop is Bletchley Park in 1943, and I learned a lot about that period from details in the book which I later confirmed from other sources to be accurate.

NoOne said...

I have an Indian background and one thing that David misses is the extent to which China is held up as an example of a model society to Indians and better in every way than India: a meritocracy to some extent, no caste nonsense through kitschy religion, centralized pay to play and without the endless fractious politics where nothing gets done (plus a GDP of 12T instead of 2.5T).

David Brin said...

Ask a Cantonese person about China's lack of castes.

locumranch said...


It's amazing how well Ilithi_D's insightful last thread observation about DETERRENCE (security) equaling INCONVENIENCE (increased effort) ties in so nicely with Mao's comment that I've paraphrased below:

"COMPLEXITY is extremely harmful in (any) collective. It is a corrosive which eats away unity, undermines cohesion, causes apathy and creates dissension".

Together, these two comments give form to those progress-related frustrations that I have tried (but mostly failed) to communicate on this forum about how many of modernity's so-called improvements are often out-weighed by its ever-increasing INCONVENIENCES in terms of Cost/Benefit Ratio.

IT came to me in the wee hours this morning -- as I struggled with an ultra-modern electronic medical data base which promises 'easy retrieval' of vital patient data, while I was instead being INCONVENIENCED by multiple levels of incompatible electronic security protocols which substantially DELAYED the delivery of patient care -- that the Juice Simply Ain't Worth the Squeeze.

This applies to almost every aspect of modern life, including everything from gender relationships, diversity, international trade, climate change, medical informatics & possibly the Fermi Paradox.

In terms of Cost/Benefit Ratio, increased complexity leads to increased inconvenience which leads to more delays, headaches & inconveniences, and I don't want to play anymore because it's just not worth it when these so-called 'modern conveniences' require more effort than they actually save.


Best

Treebeard said...

Locum, that sounds like Joseph Tainter’s theory: societies collapse due to diminishing returns on complexity. The increasing complexity required to solve a society’s problems becomes unaffordable or unmanageable, which necessitates rapid simplification—i.e. collapse. We see this in science: the next generation of particle accelerators probably isn’t affordable or politically feasible. Space exploration will probably fail due to this soon, if it hasn’t already. You see it all the time with technology: things getting more complicated but less functional as time goes on (e.g. Microsoft Windows). The American political system is another prime example of this phenomenon.

It seems that the more “progress” you make, the more complexity is produced, bringer you closer to the inevitable simplification. All of which could be an argument for “feudalism”, or a more steady-state society: to prevent this complexity roller-coaster. The Chinese have a lot of experience with this problem in their history, so maybe they know something that people who just got to the top of the roller coaster and think that the ride is gonna be like this forever don't.

David Brin said...

The get-off-my-lawn grouches are at least this time aiming their salvoes NOT at completely imaginary psycho-dreamt-up strawmen, but rather at a genuine topic -- the potential downsides of modern complexity.

As it happens, complexity creates problems... that we've mostly been pretty good at solving, vastly better than any and all feudal-simplistic societies combined across all of time. Those who are terrified of change have spent the last 20 years frantically trying to trash and cripple the political processes that we use, to adapt to change.

Yeah, right, roller-coaster metaphor is actually apt, fellah. Up and down forever while the planet supporting the corrupt-repetitious order degrades and rusts.

This is not the top of a roller coaster. We're heading into orbit and then the stars.

scidata said...

Re: Sci-Fi and society
I'm not going to produce a treatise, unless Board Man Gets Paid (an esoteric Raptors reference). It seems pretty clear that 1984 greatly helped in avoiding the dystopia it described, making double plus good quips, thus making words like 'bigly' stand out as stark, clarion warnings. And I'm a BNW guy, so 1984 is #2 for me at best. I've witnessed the French's national pride in Jules Verne (submarines, spaceflight, Laplacian deep time, etc). The Anglo-Saxons do love them some H.G. Wells (ETIs considered, Darwin popularized, Einstein-Minkowski-Spacetime-Pacifism). Asimov was recognized by Congress. The US and Canada tussle over William Gibson (and thus cyberspace), which seems greedy of the US, considering the dozens of other influential SF authors they can claim. "The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel." was obviously a description of Vancouver harbour, despite the misspelling of 'colour'.

You can go down the list of individuals/nations/languages. Perhaps begin with the 2008 Nobel Prize in economics. Here's the opening line from Krugman's full lecture (written version) to Stockholm University:
Thirty years have passed since a small group of theorists began applying concepts and tools from industrial organization to the analysis of international trade.

Sound familiar?

In 1997, Hong Kong was confidently swallowed. Scenes from "Alien" are now being played out. Best laid plans and all that. "Frankenstein", "War of the Worlds", "The Island of Doctor Moreau", "The Andromeda Strain", "Jurassic Park", and other such tales of life/evolution laying waste to engineering are wonderful morality plays.

Re: Complexity
I've often mused about the 10^9 increase in the number of transistors in my pocket over the last 50 years. Complexity is manageable. Learn a wee bit of BASIC (or better yet Forth), and you can handle orders of magnitude more complexity. Oligarchs are beginning to realize just how disruptive AI, blockchain, self-education, and 10,000 satellites really are. It's too late for simplification. Grab as many books as you can hold, then strap in and hold on.

Treebeard said...

It's too late for simplification.

Can I put that on your tombstone?

scidata said...

Treebeard: Can I put that on your tombstone?


Sure, maybe could like win a ticket to Titan in a poker game or something.

Daniel Duffy said...

Don't worry about China.

First, because of their one baby policy, China will soon become the worlds largest old age home:

https://www.abc.net.au/news/2019-01-06/chinese-declining-population-going-into-overdrive/10687996

China's ageing population, low birth rate to cause 'unstoppable' population decline, experts say... The world's most populous country must now draw up policies to try to cope with a declining labour force and a rapidly ageing population... Growth in the working population has stagnated, the report warns, and the rising number of elderly people will have a far-reaching impact on social and economic development in the country, especially if fertility rates remain low... If fertility rates remain unchanged, the population could fall to 1.17 billion by 2065... According to previous forecasts, China's elderly population is expected to reach 400 million by the end of 2035, up from around 240 million last year.

Daniel Duffy said...

(cont.)

Second, in their rush to industrialize, China has turned itself into a cesspool:

https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/1997/11/our-real-china-problem/376989/

Our Real China Problem. The price of China's surging economy is a vast degradation of the environment, with planetary implications... Fifty yards farther on we encountered a second stream, this one a mere foot wide but clogged with pineapple-sized clumps of dried orange foam. Beyond was a third creek. Its stench identified it as household sewage (workers in China's state-owned factories generally live on site or nearby), but its most extraordinary feature was its color -- as black as used motor oil. Not ten yards away a grizzled peasant in a dark-blue Mao jacket and trousers (an outfit still worn in China by the poor) bent over a tiny vegetable patch to pick some greens for his midday meal... At least five of the cities with the worst air pollution in the world are in China. Sixty to 90 percent of the rainfall in Guangdong, the southern province that is the center of China's economic boom, is acid rain. Since nearly all the gasoline in China is leaded (Beijing switched to unleaded gas in June), and 80 percent of the coal isn't "washed" before being burned, people's lungs and nervous systems are bombarded by an extraordinary volume and variety of deadly poisons. One of every four deaths in China is caused by lung disease, brought about by the air pollution and the increasingly fashionable habit of cigarette smoking. Suburban sprawl and soil erosion gobbled up more than 86 million acres of farmland from 1950 to 1990 -- as much as all the farmland in Germany, France, and the United Kingdom. Farmland losses have continued in the 1990s, raising questions about China's ability to feed itself in years to come, especially as rising incomes lead to more meat-intensive diets.

Third, China's dystopian Social Credit Score system will snuff out initiative and innovation going forward:

https://www.forbes.com/sites/bernardmarr/2019/01/21/chinese-social-credit-score-utopian-big-data-bliss-or-black-mirror-on-steroids/#7787707d48b8

Social credit ratings can go up and down based on an individual's actions. Purchasing diapers for a child might bump your score (the system assumes you're a responsible caregiver) while it might take a hit when you purchase alcohol. Are you a gamer? It's better for your social credit score if you never cheat when playing video games, but if you play video games more than 10 hours a day, your social credit rating will likely be lower than the diaper-buying caregiver. If you are found guilty of disrupting or blocking check-in counters or passageways in an airport, as obsessed fans did at the Beijing airport as they fought to gain access to their pop idols, your social credit score can be lowered.

China has a self destructive tendency. The last time this happened Ming Chinese fleets under eunuch admiral Zheng He were poised to dominate the world with ships three times larger than those used by Columbus. They sailed as far as South Africa and possibly America. But rather than having to contact meaningless, inferior foreign barbarians, they burnt that magnificent fleet and turned inward. The results was centuries of humiliation and foreign domination.

Their SCS system wil have the same effect as burning the fleet of Zheng He.

David Brin said...

These are not reasons for happiness or optimism.

duncan cairncross said...

The pollution is a major problem - but IMHO it is "fixable" and being fixed

The UK used to have it's days when thousands of Londoners would die because of the smog

The USA had a river that used to catch on fire

The population distribution - less working age, more pensioners is not as bad as people make out as while the workers have to "support" more pensioners they have less children to support

The one cancels out the other - and the reduction in population helps the environmental degradation

Daniel Duffy said...

My point is that China is not a threat to American dominance.

Neither is Russia:

http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2001/05/russia-is-finished/302220/

Over the past decade Russia's population has been shrinking by almost a million a year, owing to a plummeting birth rate and a rising number of deaths from alcoholism and violence. Predictions are astonishingly grave: the country could lose a third of its population (now 146 million) by the middle of the century. This does not factor in new scourges—tuberculosis and HIV, in particular, which have been spreading exponentially since 1998. As its population shrinks, Russia will find itself less and less able to face demographic challenges from China. Overpopulation is pushing the Chinese into the Russian Far East—a trend that at present benefits Russia by bringing it trade and small-scale investment but that could someday lead to ethnically based separatism.

David Brin said...

"The pollution is a major problem - but IMHO it is "fixable" and being fixed..."

There are varied scales. It takes at least a generation to lessen the effects of lead poisoning and some of those effects... loopy baby boomers... keep wreaking harm, as in susceptibility to Fox News.

David Brin said...

"My point is that China is not a threat to American dominance.
Neither is Russia

Yipe. At their nadir they'll outnumber us 5 to 1 and have a hundred million horny-incel men without wives. What good will our relative youth and creativity do, if they pull down the walls of the house, in wrath? Likewise Russia, where they know all this, and hence must act fast to bring us down, before the mafia/kgb business model collapses.

Siberia? I bet Putin has already secretly sold it. The whole purpose of the China gambits in the South China Sea is to draw our eyes away from there. I've said as much, in DC. So eliminating me will only draw attention to my ravings. (That last bit wasn't for you guys, but certain lurkers.)

Anonymole said...

China needs more resources.
Where to get them? Oh, yeah. North into Russia a border neighbor. Who should Putin fear more than the West? The East and its soon to be 2 billion mouth, backs and tech craving minds.
When China goes to invade in the next 30 years -- it will be Russia that succumbs to the Sinowave.

Don Gisselbeck said...

I guess this answers the question "Why didn't the Chinese land on the moon in 1769?" I'm pretty sure the answer to the question "Why didn't Baghdad land on the moon in 1869?" is fundamentalist Islam.

Alfred Differ said...

All those questions are answered the same way. They didn't discover liberalism. Those who adopt it become unimaginably rich compared to our subsistence-living ancestors. Those who adopt it trade grinding poverty for other issues, but we get fabulously rich and do strange things like wipe out small pox and walk on the Moon.

Alfred Differ said...

Humans suffer
Human finds way to alleviate some personal suffering in exchange for something less 'bad.'
Others observe and decide they would make a similar trade... so they copy the behaviors.
Others fail to copy perfectly, so variation occurs.
Some note the variations and chose among them instead because some are less bad.
Humans still suffer but it's different and they don't realize it if the improvments were slow.

--------------

A difficult thing about progress is it is hard to see for any single person. Another difficult thing about progress is we can't agree on what it is, but it is mostly about trading suffering now for suffering later from a different problem.

Sometimes we get things wrong and simplify when we unwind a previous set of choices. Mostly we don't. We keep what works as partially imperfect copies and never see the evolution of our ideas as they pass from one mind to the next.

Along the way, though, we do what only large brained, social creatures can. We abstract the complexity as one of our innovations. We tell whole stories about people who reject something good that they can't have and pretend like they didn't want it anyway. Later we just raise an eyebrow and say 'sour grapes' and the culturally literate understand. Yet abstraction is not simplification. Far from it. Recursion in complex languages is required.

The real story of us isn't simple cycles or even my simplistic progress thread. It's complex and multi-threaded. The future can arrive too fast motivating us to revert, but we rarely do even when we try. We keep the bits with which we can cope. We make imperfect copies and adapt them to our own sufferings. We seldom notice others copying us... imperfectly... and doing the same.

Daniel Duffy said...

"At their nadir they'll outnumber us 5 to 1"

Doesn't matter. China has always outnumbered the West. Didn't help them in the past, won't help them in a future where Big Brother snuffs out invention and initiative.

Also, look at the numbers. By 2035 (16 years from now) their elderly will be about 40% of their total population. Unless they let their seniors die of starvation in the streets (unlikely given an ingrained culture that reveres the elderly) they won't have any money left over after paying the Chinese equivalent of social security and Medicare to afford technological research or military adventurism. They won't have enough young males to spare from a dwindling labor force to serve in the military.

Remember when Japan was going to take over the world back in the 1980s? Didn't happen for the same reason that China won't - the demographics of an aging population.

scidata said...

We're going to see "Sirens of Titan", "Foundation", "Consider Phlebas", and "Ringworld" TV series shortly. It will be interesting to see what effect real SF will have on pop culture. It's like swapping out the bubble gum for caviar.
https://www.vulture.com/2019/06/fantasy-adaptations-book-tv-development-production.html

David Brin said...

Sirens of Titan? Wow. Alas, that the Foundation guys never consulted me. I'm the expert! ;-(

scidata said...

Dr. Brin, you should talk to James Cameron and Jonathan Nolan. A proper job of Foundation would replace Avatar as the biggest movie ever, and move us a wee bit closer to the stars. I know one or two people myself...

David Brin said...

I've met Cameron a couple times and I suppose I "know" him. But I doubt I could get through, Alas. That and 4$ will get me a Starbucks.

scidata said...

I've never met Cameron, but if I ever do, these keywords might get his attention:
Fantastic Voyage (I think he owns the movie rights - not sure)
Titanic, Mariana Trench (I once programmed a marine ROV)
Kapuskasing (Northern Ontario was once my stomping grounds)

And Nolan is the biggest Foundation nut out there.

A.F. Rey said...

So what's up with Trump first authorizing an attack on Iran, then cancelling it at the last minute? It doesn't sound like he's completely on board with the plan to start a little war with Iran so that Russia can move in to help them.

Maybe he didn't get the memo?

Larry Hart said...

Maybe he couldn't read the memo? :)

He likes to threaten conflict in order to intimidate others into concessions, but he doesn't like actual conflict.

matthew said...

Trump changing his mind on the Iran attack? Maybe Tucker Carlson won out over Sean Hannity? Carlson has been cautioning restraint at 8pm while Hannity has been calling for bombing at 9 pm...

scidata said...

What channel are the Simp-sons on. That's the key question.

Tony Fisk said...

A speculative but amusing take on the war room conversation:
"Sir, casualties are estimated to be 150 plus..."
"Yeah? Well let's get this operation st..."
"... one."
"... opped this instant."

A *slightly* more likely possibility, given what ICE have planned on Sunday: the folly of opening two fronts simultaneously was raised.

Tony Fisk said...

@larry, fwiw: my source was "Enigma" by Hugh Sebag-Montefiore. Interesting to see how often the Allies nearly gave the game away.

David Ai said...

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6_RdnVtfZPY

A good video overview of the current protests in Hong Kong against their government's actions to allow extradition to China... it's complicated.

scidata said...

Methane spike detected on Mars.
https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/big-news-from-mars-methane-spike-detected-curiosity-rover-rice/

Daniel Duffy said...

India has been suffering 125 deg F temperatures (50 deg C) and it's sixth largest city Chennai has run out of water (equivalent to Philadelphia running out of water in the US).

Why is this not headline news?

Climate change = drought = crop failures = violence = mass migration. The same cycle triggered the Syrian mass migration into Europe a few years ago (and gave us Brexit because British voters were afraid of being swamped by "brown skinned hordes" - Trump and Brexit are all about race and very little about economics). Today's trickle is tomorrow's flood.

Imagine a billion Indian refugees fleeing a country that has become uninhabitable for much of the year. How about a super-Syria where the region from North Africa to Southeast Asia becomes too hot to work or live in. By comparison, Guatemala is a drop in the bucket.


David Brin said...

onward

onward