Tuesday, June 24, 2008

The Great Wall has many faces

I came across this while perusing Edge.org. Long story short, China has refused publication of Edge.org's book What is Your Dangerous Idea? I read that book, and in all honesty, I really wouldn't term any of those ideas as dangerous, in the strictest sense of the word.

As I recall, there was one essay by some artist which wasn't so much dangerous as mind-numbingly trivial and inane. "
The Effect of Art Can’t Be Controlled or Anticipated", she said. Thanks very much indeed for that. If my eyes rolled back any further, I'd get a grand view of my own hypothalamus. And of course there were the geologists who, thanks to their unique take on time, don't see global warming as an issue, i.e. "It's ok, it'll all balance out fairly quickly in the end." Bear in mind that a geologist's idea of fast is something like continental drift of 10cm a year.

Having been educated a physicist myself, I'm a great supporter for the cause of science and reason. But reading these collections of essays from Edge.org*, I can't help but feel they betray a terrible naivete about our world. Which brings us back to China.

Pinker laments: "
Everyone says that China will be the next scientific and economic power. Is this compatible with their ongoing rejection of open debate and exploration of ideas? Is a technologically advanced society compatible with anti-intellectualism and suppression of debate? It's hard to see how China will ever compete with the West as a source of scientific and technological innovation if ideas cannot be discussed and evaluated. Or will the Internet — which can never be completely censored — and a stream of PhDs returning from the West eventually pressure them to open up?"

At first glance, I feel his pain, but one has to bear in mind: China isn't about freedom. Critics of China in the West far too often make the mistake of viewing China through the lens of individualist thinking. The freedom so glorified in the West is something that needs affluence, education (NOT indoctrination) and above all else, discipline to make it work. When resources are limited and people are plentiful, then one has to make do with collectivist thinking and carefully engineered control of the hearts and minds of the masses.

With the world's political landscape the way it is, China must move forward as a whole, or not at all. So it's not about the science. Science and innovation are secondary objectives. China is about power and they will achieve this by using any means they deem necessary to maintain the coherence of the collective. Foreign devils (myself included, actually) should always bear in mind these words, holding a very prominent place in the Chinese National Anthem (which I think is kinda catchy**) and various other patriotic songs of the People's Republic:


Loosely translated: "Our million hearts beat as one". Hear that everyday (remember Russell's Teapot?) and you'll soon start believing it.

* I've just got my grubby paws on What Are you Optimistic About?

** But I'm Malaysian. My country's anthem isn't really an anthem. More a patriotic lullaby.

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