This is the time of year for self-reflection. The pensiveness just oozes out of columns, blogs, and news reports across the media spectrum. I prefer to think of it, however, as a time for putting things in a larger context. That, in my experience, is the first step toward understanding and, ultimately, hope.
With the election of Donald Trump and his proven ability to stir up angst in Beijing, one would think this blog would literally write itself. And he has created an abundance of topics to write about concerning US-China relations.
I find myself, however, having the opposite problem – writer’s block. What to say? Where to begin? What will he do?
That has brought me back to a saying I employed many times when living and working in the Middle Kingdom. In China things are never as good or as bad as they first appear. It’s all just part of the circular logic of inductive reasoning.
That said, I will offer a few predictions.
First of all, Trump will get nowhere on Taiwan. That’s just not in the cards on many levels, any more than California is in play with Mexico. If anything, his attempt to push the issue will only cause China to accelerate its plans for assimilation.
Ditto for the South China Sea. China will not back down. The man-made islands are there to stay and there will be military installations on them.
And trade negotiations alone won’t move the needle on US factory employment. Some jobs may move here, but it is the Chinese that will bring them. America offers many advantages to companies in certain industries. There is easy and inexpensive access to the US market, access to the best university system in the world, and one key benefit that is seldom mentioned – very cheap energy.
There will be limits to transferal, however. There are many very large companies in China, many of them state-owned. For every one of the behemoths, however, there are literally thousands of tiny companies that are critical to their operations. Unlike the US, which employs more of an integrated supply chain, China relies on a supply chain ecosystem that would be prohibitive and impractical to move. It may happen; but it will be a slow process. A phone call from the president isn’t going to do it.
The real lesson of 2016, however, is a lesson I learned from the Chinese themselves.
The one question that plagued me throughout 2016 was: How did the world get so messed up? How could the shining city on the hill have such a debasing and acrimonious – and embarrassing – election after 240 years of maturation? How could racism still be the ball and chain about the ankle of what might well be the most educated society in history? How could Aleppo happen in what is arguably the most religious region of the world? How could? How could?
After pondering the larger context, however, I think I have an answer.
As always, it’s personal. Our worldview defines how we interpret reality. And the way in which we interpret reality defines both our expectations and our interpretation of actual results versus those expectations. It is at the heart of both glee and sadness.
I have concluded that there are essentially two worldviews. One is defined by its reliance on inductive logic, where the result is all that matters and everything else is wasted conjecture. The other is based on deductive logic, where effect is always preceded by cause and understanding that relationship is the key to our sense of personal well being.
In the extreme, inductive logic gives us religious and political fanaticism. We don’t need to ponder our beliefs; they are what they are. We only need to project them into action.
Deductive logic, on the other hand, gives us political correctness. What is political correctness, after all, but an extreme focus on cause? The focus is on language, bigotry, racism, and homophobia, etc. And since cause is the key, the results become a taboo topic for open discussion. Such discussions almost always revert back to cause – “You are a racist, a homophobic, or a misogynist.”
Tit for tat is based on an inductive worldview. You did this; I am justified in doing that. Cause is irrelevant. You did; I do back.
Progressive ideology, on the other hand, is deductive in nature. It’s built on the never-ending quest to understand why. It is the perpetual quest for deciphering cause and effect.
Most of the world, it would seem, has adopted an inductive worldview. That’s not surprising. It is much simpler to wrap your head around. It’s clean, if you will. There is more clarity.
Many in the West, however, cling to a deductive worldview. For most of my life, I have been one of them. That’s why I don’t sleep at night. I’m always pondering why.
I’ve moved a long way toward an inductive worldview, however, as a result of living and working in China for so long. I still don’t sleep but the world makes a lot more sense to me. There is less anxiety.
And it is that migration in worldview that gives me hope for the future. I am an old dog but the Chinese taught me a new trick. As a result I am more tolerant; I listen better; I am less judgmental; and I have a far better understanding of world events, as depressing as they are on the surface.
Donald Trump is an inductivist with some extremely deductive personality traits. He is not a student of cause but believes in the power of cause. He believes that the desired result can be achieved through the raw force of personality and tough negotiation. And Twitter, of course.
My simple hope for 2017 is that the Trump team comes to recognize this contradiction. It’s a contradiction that has made Trump a success in the rough-and-tumble world of American commercial real estate. It is not, however, a worldview shared by most world leaders, who tend to fall more on either side of the inductive/deductive spectrum.
In the end, all of the tough negotiations in the world will not make China, or much of the world for that matter, become more like us. The Chinese are perhaps the toughest negotiators on the planet. When we do, they will do back. Win-win is not in their lexicon. That’s a deductive negotiating strategy. For them, there is only winning.
There is hope, nonetheless, for a peaceful and mutually beneficial relationship between the US and China. We just need to focus a little more on the way things are rather than endlessly debating our strategic interests in an effort to ‘cause’ the world to do what we want it to.
Contact: You may reach the author at firstname.lastname@example.org. Mr. Moreau is also available for public speaking and the provision of third-party written content for your website or other communications material.