Regina Saphier: The United States of China (Part 2)

Regina Saphier: The United States of China (Part 2)

 

After Eric X. Li’s TED talk was published, My TED Blog views hit an all time high globally, especially in the US. In addition, a few days after the talk was published, Richard Saul Wurman (the creator of TED) was kind enough to repeatedly post my blog link on his facebook wall and I wrote some extra material in response to two comments by his friends. Here are my comment responses, edited for my blog (remember, these paragraphs below were written by me in response to two comments, so some parts might appear to be out of place, but I did not want to fragment the text by removing those bits):

My comment response #1.: In part I wrote my essay because I noticed the enthusiastically applauding TED audience after EXL’s talk live and I realized that probably not many there witnessed the collapse of a dictatorship from the inside (especially not the collapse of an enormous system of multiple dictatorships under a mega oppressor in the form of the USSR) and not many at TED Global experienced the painful, deep and long lasting social and economic scars such a pathologically delusional system leaves behind. (Even most of those people living in these former socialist and communist countries don’t realize the trauma, the massive PTSD, because of the lack of cultural comparison and due to lack of information.) Hungary (a former “Satellite State”) and the “Eastern Bloc” countries still, after twenty years struggle with those unresolved issues and those issues are not going to be over for a long time.

Of course you should question anything that comes out of China in the suspiciously eloquent form of a propaganda talk or in the form of a superhumanly optimistic survey analysis of growing wellbeing in a developing country. (More in my next comment below.)

My comment response #2.: Anyone can show enormous growth at that scale with really low cost of labor when not having any regard for nature and individual needs, when the only target is growth. However, it is not a sustainable rate of growth, not a sustainable way of development in China. Imagine the income inequality that characterizes less than 6 000 USD GNI per year per capita among over a billion citizens, especially if you consider that the US is criticized for the shocking income inequality in the 50 000 USD GNI per year per capita range among “only” a few hundred million citizens. Are you able to grasp the difference in terms of quality of life? The two systems are not to be compared. One is a developed and established economy, the other is a fragile developing country. Still, both can be criticized endlessly in their own leagues. China at this point is a huge bubble waiting to burst. Naturally: larger, more established and more sustainable economies can not grow at China’s rate. Plus: don’t forget the economic casualties in other countries, the lost jobs, the lost income, the lost social status, the poverty that was created (among other things) by the unfair competition at irrationally low labor costs in China and by the insane target of forever growing consumption globally. In addition, imagine what is going to happen to the Chinese labor force when AI technology makes them completely obsolete in the future. The World is one interdependent system and China’s government has no regard for that, while other countries are also only learning to understand what all this means. If you look at this complex image and if you have some insight and even the ability to maintain the outsider position, it is surreal how EXL was able to lead the attending, highly educated, intellectually and financially influential TED audience by their noses. On top of this EXL also believes what he says. To me he is just another believer in the wrong thing because it appears to work for him. He is a skilled conformist. In a way he is the “other” you should take to lunch to have a conversation about differences in world views. But can you have an open and real dialog with someone who does not believe in freedom for his own countryman?

My comment response #2 continued: Before 1989 I could not travel freely. It was really hard and complicated to get out of Hungary (I could only travel to the US in 1981 as a child with my parents because my father’s sister lived there and she invited us… and because the Hungarian authoritarian regime, on the western edge of the “Eastern Bloc” started to slowly fall apart and a few years later it disintegrated completely, along with the rest of the sick system). After 1989 I was able to attend French school in Villefrance-sur-Mer for example in the nineties, on the hill, right behind you on your facebook profile picture (I recognized the view immediately when I looked at your profile). Later, when I did not have to use a passport on the border traveling from Hungary to Austria… well, I will never forget this new feeling of being a citizen of the EU. Since joining the EU in 2004, Hungary is going downhill economically, but this is not caused by the EU membership. It is caused by the “post-system change syndrome” or “PSCS” as I call it (before and after 1989: people faced very different expectations, but the people on the cellular level and so their attitudes remained the same). Leaders of old EU member states don’t recognize the need to help nations with this national PTSD. If you think about it, an individual with PTSD needs help and can not be forced to perform like people without PTSD. An individual with PTSD is also highly likely to pass on genetic susceptibility to PTSD to the fetus, this is scientific fact since 9/11. Imagine that on a national scale after decades of trauma! This in my humble opinion is a huge problem. Decades of social, psychological and so physiological and in turn biological trauma revealing itself today, and preventing adequate present day adaptation and development on a national scale. Hungarians were part of a closed and planned, surreal “1984” kind of system until 1989. Even most of their children don’t possess the appropriate skills today to navigate the high waves of an open market in the middle of a global economic crisis and during an era of transition in so many arenas of an increasingly globalized, online and mobile life.

When the Hungarian government now turns east, it is because the turning west did not work out for the political “elite” here. It is due to lack of appropriate communications and understanding between the western and the eastern elites, but not the way EXL wants you to believe. Just look at citizens in Germany, so close to each other (not apart like the US and China). People in the eastern part are very different from the people in western Germany. Decades of epigenetic changes due to a long era of suffering, fear, stress, anxiety and lack of resources and lack of freedom don’t disappear from one day to the other. At least two generations have to go before people in Germany start to look similar and indistinguishable again. I am not saying that people in the US and in China must be similar, diversity is important, but in fact many people in China are more and more americanized already and perhaps this is not what those people need.

When I look at my blog statistics, I see the map of the world… I see readers from everywhere. Views of My TED Blog went up by +9,012.50% last week after people watched Li’s talks and read my critical post. Still, there were no readers from China (for obvious reasons). I want that to change.

Dictatorships not only brainwash and isolate people, they also distort people on the cellular level for generations. That is a crime against humanity. Outsiders and even privileged insiders usually “somehow” fail to see that. Change makers in these countries are mostly regarded as strange and are powerfully hindered by the conformist masses and by the rotten status quo even after the dictators are long gone. Anyone who understands this should advocate for appropriate social and political change in China, but not necessarily for the kind that was made in America.

And if you would like to understand how Americans were brainwashed into consumerism during the last century (and at the same time into paradoxical impulse suppression) watch the fantastic BBC documentary: “The Century of the Self“. I wrote about this brilliant documentary in 2009 (in Hungarian, on my first blog). This kind of PR based consumer brainwashing is already happening in China. It also happened in Hungary and it did a lot of harm.

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Regina Saphier: The United States of China

Regina Saphier: The United States of China

I had my personal opinion, but I did not know that I had anything to say about China until I got an e-mail from Eric X. Li thanking me for my thoughtful writeup of his talk at TED Global 2013. That was the second when I realized that I need to say more, because my quick summary projected the impression that I agree with him. Well, mostly I don’t. I am able to see that he is a talented individual and I think it is true that new leadership models need to be introduced in the world, but I strongly disagree when it comes to the Chinese leadership model, as the right solution for China. Below I explain why. Hereby I present my critical, comparative essay in response to Eric X. Li‘s TED Global 2013 talk (talk published on July 1, 2013). He is an investor from Shanghai and a political scientist, also the Henry Crown Fellow at the Aspen Institute.

Going from communism to capitalism, from groups to individualism… to understand the rotten political narratives of societies we need people like Eric with personal historic and political perspective and analytical insight. According to Eric democracy was also sold to nations as was communism, but China did not buy it this time (not that it is in any way perfect, he added)… China did not go from communism to capitalism, rather created a hybrid system that works in many ways for them and meta narratives are the Cancer that are killing democracies around the world, Eric told us. In his opinion this global meta narrative is boring, that all nations should become democratic. In my opinion witnessing a dictatorship redressing itself is what is boring. It is also just plain sad to see a western educated young man tell the world to promote pluralism and at the same time promoting the tragic fact that pluralism is forbidden in China. Eric! Face it: there is nothing exceptional about Hungarians, nothing exceptional about Americans, and nothing exceptional about Chines people. We are all from Earth. We were all born on Earth. Your economy has powerful spillover effects, for example Hungary’s textile industry is dead. Your pollution is all over the planet. I have seen people like you being enthusiastic about a dictatorship and 40 years later those people try to make people forget what they did, what they supported, what they were saying. 40 years from now your split narrative will be all over the web. Your old self might one day regret the words you repeated again and again today.

Let me add: It is interesting if you compare this with the narrative of a journalist, that Hungary is the Cancer in the EU… Perhaps the EU uses the wrong narrative? Some people in the EU do that, definitely. Also, never generalize. Hungary is full of people who do not agree with the state of things in Hungary and never voted for this government. If the EU can not push the government out of office, with all that international political and economic power, how do you expect the exhausted, severely traumatized citizens of Hungary to do the same? Let plurality of governing styles change the global, social, economic and political narratives. BUT:

In my humble opinion, China’s present leadership is not sustainable as it is in the long run. I come from a thankfully collapsed similar regime (meaning I grew up in Hungary) that attempted to make its citizens “happy” (politically speaking: making sure those people didn’t complain and accepted the state of things… for many people pretending was survival, and many others did not even know that there was anything else, that there were other choices). Among other things that system resulted in the collapse and in huge debt. What I however also see is that Hungary’s right wing nationalist government is now looking at China as a role model… and at Russia… Autocratic government… with 2/3 of the parliament and no inhibitions: happily draining EU money for their string pulling mini oligarchs (the local kleptocracy). Terribly worrisome. At the same time the so called old democracies are unable to handle this new EU member state called Hungary, and those “old” democracies (EU and US equally) are also struggling with huge problems of their own (like joblessness, and technology making more and more people jobless). Meanwhile African nations are more and more looking at China (a capitalist dictatorship where slavery-like conditions are still the norm) instead of the US (a federal presidential constitutional republic, a representative democracy)… Clearly the US has much more GDP per capita and much more per capita income, but China is growing fast economically, while suppressing individual interests in China and building infrastructure in Africa. And the average person in China and in Africa is more interested in having a road, as opposed to having a vote… and having both appears to be an unattainable dream to them.

Corruption Perceptions Index

Corruption Perceptions Index

What is bizarre is that China is regarded as the key economy in the world today, but when you look at the numbers, the US is a developed nation with a strong GDP and GNI per capita per year (despite their democracy), similar to Sweden. Their GNI per capita is around 50,000 USD (note: there is income inequality so remember, this is only an average number, many earn much less, and some earn much more). China on the other hand is only a developing country still below the 6,000 USD per capita income per year level (above which a country is able to sustain democracy indefinitely, according to Dambisa Moyo‘s TED Global 2013 talk… another PR talk supporting China’s activities in Africa… interestingly she did not take any questions after her talk…). And Hungary is above the 12,000 USD margin so it is regarded as a developed country, but come on… democracy in Hungary is fading already (so perhaps Hungary’s budget and statistics are also questionable)… and Greece had twice that per capita income (over 24,000 USD) and it was just removed from the list of developed countries (the birth place of democracy with an imaginary budget)… Nothing that appears to be true based on old school economics is really true.  This is where we agree with Eric: New thinking is required.

However, keeping an open mind about how nations govern themselves does not mean that I would accept Orbán’s attempt to return to the rotten communist populism that Orbán himself (supposedly) hated and publicly protested against as a young democrat and that era was represented by Kádár, the authoritarian “happy-maker” of Hungary before 1989. When the so called “system change” happened, I was a teenager and the first thing I did, I went to Austria to learn German. The twenty something years that passed since were really traumatic on many levels and I don’t want to go backwards in time. At the same time the present situation in Hungary is not a sustainable one. Not politically, not economically and not in social terms. Low pay, high cost of living, enormous bureaucracy, political impotence and arrogance, manipulated state media (not as bad as in China… yet…), corruption, stagnating economy, plus mostly exhausted citizens. The open minded, constructive and independently thinking elite and the middle class is missing…

Meanwhile in Denmark: very low corruption, very high income, high levels of education and health care, low CO2 emission, long and increasing life expectancy. “The Kingdom of Denmark is a unitary constitutional monarchy, organized in a parliamentary democracy.” So, if Eric X. Li is telling us that the western world should look for some other ways instead of the way of democracy, I am asking EXL to consider this: China should urgently look for a way that permits plurality in a huge country with lots of regional diversity instead of the forced centralized dictatorship. Because perhaps there are hidden possibilities for Denmark-like regions in China, but right now you are forcing them too to look like Hungary… Just think about that… I suggest you adopt your own suggestions for your own country before you go out and tell the world how to progress. I suggest when you soon reach the 6,000 USD GNI per capita per year goal (above which China could indefinitely maintain democracy and democracies) you name your country “The United States of China” after turning all the autonomous regions and provinces into independent countries. (If that does not happen soon, some people definitely are artificially holding onto a questionable amount of power…)  Of course with all that growth and development in China, you will be able to be creative and invent the most marvelous technologically supported democracy where everything works like a dream. Right? Well, that is when I will look at China and say: the Chinese system might become the most superior one. How about that? When that happens and you become known as the investor from the USC, people of The West might be more likely to listen to your narrative. But as of today you come from China the land of modern day slavery and oppression (don’t you try to tell me that your polls are reflective of the truth, I know what dictatorships are doing to look good). Look forward, instead of looking backward.

Note: I just discovered thanks to WordPress’s “Recommended Links” that indeed I am not the first one to suggest a United States of China. Very interesting to immediately know that my idea is valid. And perhaps now is the time for the USC to be created. If China’s leaders are as effective as you say, we could celebrate a USC by 2020.

James O’Toole: Leading Change

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Finally, let me quote James O’Toole from a book that I read over ten years ago while studying among other things the subject of Leadership at Columbia University in New York. (O’Toole: Leading Change: Overcoming the Ideology of Comfort and the Tyranny of Custom, p. 10-12): “Clearly, the leadership of change does not depend on circumstances: it depends on the attitudes, values, and actions of leaders.” … “To be effective, leaders must change their attitude about followers forever and under all conditions. Moral leadership, by definition, can not be situational or contingent. The reason is simple: if ever leaders revert to paternalistic behavior…, in doing so they will break trust with followers.” From 1994-1997 James O’Toole was Executive Vice President of the Aspen Institute, where you Eric X. Li are the Henry Crown Fellow.

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Written by Regina Saphier, June 18, 2013 (mytedblog.wordpress.com)

This entry was updated on June 20, 2013

New GNI data for 2012 added on July 10, 2013.

Additional data reported in the Hungarian media on July 09, 2013: The World Bank GNIPC in 2012 for Hungary is 12,390 USD. Most of the regional economies are doing significantly better, while Hungary is obviously going down. Here are the numbers between 2008 and 2011: 12,890 USD, 12,980 USD, 12,860 USD,12,730 USD. Here is what I wrote about this in January of 2013 on My Coursera Blog: “I am not pretending to know enough about developing countries, but in a way I feel that even though Hungary is regarded as a developed country, we have many issues that are similar to developing nations. In fact I strongly believe that statistics are powerfully distorted, because living standards are very different within Hungary, and it still feels like a developing nation.” Before we joined the EU Hungary was forced into pretending that it fits the EU. Well, even before I graduated from Columbia, I warned that Hungary is not ready for the EU, and that even EU officials are willfully blind to this fact. However, nobody was listening to a graduate student, obviously…

Eric X. Li’s TED Global 2013 talk was published on July 1, 2013

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