Category Archives: Worldview & Culture

The Science of Social Media is a False Dilemma


Author Gary Moreau, aka Avam Hale in fiction

On the Internet, fake news and spurious intent are all the rage. The Russians are allegedly promoting it. Congress is investigating it. The alt-right is accused of it. Antifa, too. All of the evil “-ists” are polluting the world with it.

And we have science to blame. Or, more precisely, the scientific world view, which I, to be clear, fully embrace.

The scientific method is the progeny of deductive reasoning. It is the world of cause and effect. Data, and the patterns that reside within it, are its fuel and its purpose. Gather data; analyze it; discern the patterns; and apply them to larger and/or related questions and issues.

We call it intelligent reason. And while it is just what it claims to be, it will ultimately bring down the Internet and the culture and the economy we have built around it. The global economy will collapse. Geo-politics will be in turmoil. Culture itself will implode. And, yes, anarchy will prevail.

Why?

It’s simple, really. It is the duality—the paradox, if you will—of knowledge and its role in the acquisition of power. Knowledge liberates and oppresses. Knowledge is both the beginning and the end of the human tragedy of domination and enslavement.

The promise of the Internet is the promise of universal influence—the liberation of the influenced; the powerful and unstoppable rise of the everyperson. Everyone, in theory, gets a voice. Even Barney, sitting in his pajamas in Four Bears Village, North Dakota.


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It’s now obvious, however, that having a voice is not the same as being heard. Influence is peddled not by those with a voice, but those voices that hold sway over the crowd.

Knowledge is acquired. It does not emerge spontaneously. It is granted, passed along, and used to create an impression. It is the essence of influence. And it can be weaponized.

The idea of Russian propaganda operatives buying political ads on Facebook is easy to condemn, although it was obviously not so easy to detect and will be difficult to stamp out in the future. And this, in the end, will inevitably prove to be the tip of the iceberg of fake news and unsubstantiated influence.

Reasoned intelligence holds that knowledge is factual—it is both singular and all-inclusive. The reality of science, we believe, is one-dimensional; it can be discovered and shared through scientific discovery and affirmed through peer review.

What we call scientific truth, however, is often a false dilemma. Reality is seldom digital. It comes in many shades and can rarely be captured or expressed by either/or selections. And the fact that language itself is a mythical invention, not common to the universe like carbon and hydrogen, further compounds the problem and the risk.

Inevitably, the umbrella of fake news is expanded to include news that is misleading, unsubstantiated, or promotes a perspective that does not enjoy consensus. (Or it enjoys the consensus of the wrong people.)

Words become weaponized. And where there are weapons, there are armies. Information arms the conflict. And the world, via the Internet, becomes a battlefield without dimension or borders.

War ensues, and eventually the gatekeepers of information—Google, Facebook, Amazon, Twitter, etc.—are drawn into the battle. Divisions and defenses harden. The ante escalates. The apocalypse emerges.

It’s already happening. People are angry. They are disturbed. And it’s not some people, some of the time. It’s everyone, all of the time. Hate and frustration are 24/7. There are no holidays. There is no etiquette. Everyone and everything is fair game.

Facebook, for its alleged acceptance of Russian propaganda, is the current ground zero of the battle. But Google came under attack during the 2016 presidential election for allegedly helping Hillary Clinton through its all-powerful search algorithms, potentially influencing public opinion in a way the Russian propagandists can only dream of. (Google denies the accusations.)

Twitter has now joined the fray, recently blocking a video ad of Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) because of its “inflammatory” reference to her opposition to the sale of fetal tissue for medical research. Amazon, for its part, allegedly removed customer reviews of Hilary Clinton’s new book, What Happened, that were unfavorable, driving the average customer rating for the book, which had hovered just above three stars in the early hours of public availability, up to the maximum five stars (4.8), where it remains.

To be clear, each of these companies states adamantly that they are politically neutral and, in the case of perceived censorship, are merely enforcing clear and established policy. And there is little doubt that they could, and likely will have to, mount an effective defense of their actions in a court of law.

But the court of law is not the court of public opinion. Will the sheep see the shepherd and his dog for what they are. And what will be the shepherd’s reaction? Will he give the sheep freedom or will he train another dog?

None of which has anything to do with evil intent. All intent is dichotomal. It is neither good nor bad; it is merely intent. The giant tech companies are NOT evil empires. They simply can’t help themselves and are likely unconscious of any corporate bias and influence. We have simply and voluntarily given them a degree of power that no person or institution in history has been able to wield without favor and bias. It is beyond our abilities. We are, by nature and nurture, creatures, both personal and institutional, drawn to influence—as both givers and takers.

At the heart of all things online is the algorithm, named after the ninth century mathematician, Muhammad ibn-Musa al-Khwarizmi. The magic of Facebook, Google, Amazon and Twitter is the magic of algorithms, digital computations that provide answers to questions like those asked of a search engine or used to determine a ranking. They are not calculations, however, in the same sense that 2+2=4 is. They can answer a question but they are not inherently truthful. They can approximate truth, but hold no dominion over it.

Franklin Foer, the author of the seminal book, World Without Mind, makes the astute and far-reaching observation that, “The problem is that when we outsource thinking to machines, we are really outsourcing thinking to the organizations that run the machines.” All people have a perspective; all coders are people; all algorithms are inherently biased in one direction or another.

In the case of the Internet, moreover, the algorithm and the potential bias it empowers is hidden away from public scrutiny under the guise of intellectual property. Google does not tell us how it conducts its searches. Facebook doesn’t tell us the whole story as to how it loads our news feed or populates our potential friends list.

The bias feeds on itself. The meaning of words becomes more and more rigid and more partisan. Opinions harden. We seek shelter not just from aggressive behaviors but from thought that makes us uncomfortable or we do not wish to hear. We run for the shelter of safe places and safe friends who see the world just as we do. We demand that content providers provide trigger warnings so we can easily avoid content that we may not find comfortable to even be aware of.

It is no surprise, really, that social media is no longer social. A Tweet is both a witty meme and a cudgel with which to shame and destroy. Facebook is a community both to enjoy and to manipulate.

Reality isn’t even real any more. Selfies are staged and digitally altered. Even the social celebrities themselves complain that reality has been lost. Kim Kardashian, photographed while on holiday and allegedly without the services of her digital stylists, complained on national television recently that the picture taken and posted online is not of the “real” her. It’s her face and body, but it is not the allegedly digital body that her notoriety is built upon. “Like, I literally don’t look like this!”

The problem is not fake news. The problem is that technology has unleashed artificial forces that will eventually spiral out of control. Reality will become less and less real. Divisions will be hardened. The tech giants will more and more be forced to take sides. Divisions will harden further. Language and visual media will be further weaponized. The government will not have the courage or the political capital to step in.

Social media will implode. The stock market will crash. The world economy will come tumbling down. The post-apocalyptic dystopia, once the stuff of Netflix and video games, will be very real indeed.

If you doubt that, I challenge you to this simple test: Identify one single person who has a workable way to keep unsubstantiated information off the Internet. It can’t be done. Truth is, more often than not, a false dilemma. You will have your truth; I will have mine; but at some level each will be half of a duality.

In an article dated October 7, 2017, Bloomberg quoted Alex Stamos, Facebook’s chief security officer, saying “It’s very difficult to spot fake news and propaganda using just computer programs,” warning that the fake news problem is far more complicated and dangerous than the public thinks and Congress would have us believe. Adding people, of course, otherwise called censors, will only make the problem worse.

If we need more evidence we have only to look at the challenge facing China, which already has one of the most heavily regulated and censored social media spaces in the world. According to Bloomberg, “the country’s [China’s] social media employ technology and armies of vetters to scour its services for undesirable content, which in China’s case goes beyond rumors and unsubstantiated claims to include any and all information deemed harmful to social stability. Yet even the best-funded online operators have difficulty keeping up…”

“The problem persists despite China having some of the strictest rules aimed at preventing the spread of ‘false news,’ ” Bloomberg continues. The Chinese government, in reaction, has established regulations forcing forum-posters to register with their real identities and threatening jail time for posting defamatory false information, two fairly straight forward regulations that seem unfathomable in the US.

Fake news is a problem with no solution because the digital space, in the end, is not organic to the universe. The Internet is a human convention in the same way that language is. We made it up.

In the case of the online world, however, there is only one and it spans the globe, empowering friend and foe alike. And we have integrated it so far into our economy, our culture, and our institutions of learning and commerce, the inevitable exposure of its fallacy will bring everything crashing down.

As a human convention, the Internet is, by definition, a scientific fraud. It is built on a human consensus that has no basis in the natural universe. Within such a world, truth itself is ultimately a false dilemma that will eventually be exposed for what it is; a convention of human thought that exists in a context; and which context is defined by an unavoidably biased perspective.

The promise of the Internet was that it would overcome the manipulative power of influence. In the end, however, it has merely empowered it. And it will continue to empower it to the point where influence brings about its own destruction.

The Internet has nuclearized influence. The post-apocalyptic dystopia cannot be far behind.

header photo credit: iStock.com/mediaphotos

You may contact the author at gary@gmoreau.com
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Forever a Foreigner

Author Gary Moreau

Dr. Daniel A. Bell, a Canadian-born Caucasian scholar who has lived and worked in China since 2004, speaks Mandarin, embraces Chinese culture, and is married to a Chinese woman, recently wrote a piece in the Wall Street Journal lamenting the fact that his Chinese friends and colleagues, despite all of these facts, do not consider him to be Chinese. In the eyes of the Chinese, he concludes, “… to be Chinese is to belong to a race.”

The over-riding point of the article is that China would benefit by embracing a leadership meritocracy without regard to ethnicity in all arenas, including politics, science, academia, business, and medicine. It’s a valid point, of course, that applies to virtually every country, including the US and Canada. And, as he insightfully notes, China has done just that at certain high points in its long and storied history.

It is his lament over remaining a foreigner in the eyes of the Chinese that appears to have received the most attention, however. And, not surprisingly, many commentators have taken him to task for confusing, in their opinion, race and ethnicity with identity. He might appreciate Chinese culture, they argue, but he can’t fully appreciate the historical Chinese identity because his own historical identity is one of white European privilege.

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Having lived and worked in China for almost a decade I understand Dr. Bell’s sense of eternal foreignness. I’ve written about it many times in this blog and in my books. I don’t, however, share his pain. I, too, have a Chinese wife and have a great appreciation for Chinese culture. In her eyes, however, she is married to a foreigner and that will be her perspective until the day she dies. To my Chinese friends I am likewise a friend, but a foreign friend nonetheless.

I am more than accepting of that reality—I actually applaud it—because I don’t believe the perspective has anything to do with race, ethnicity, OR identity. I think it comes down to the fundamental difference between Western and Eastern culture.

Western culture is based on a linear world view and the deductive logic that is at the heart of both science and monotheistic religion. More than anything else, Westerners believe in the linear and singular linkage of cause and effect, which is why a Westerner like Dr. Bell might lament non-assimilation. To our way of interpreting reality there has to be a reason for it, and in the case of cultural non-assimilation, it has to be a prejudicial one.

The same is true in reverse. There are many Americans who believe that foreign assimilation is the cornerstone of American greatness. If only the foreigners spoke our language and adopted our customs, their thinking goes. If only they were more like us everything would be fine.

The Chinese, quite simply, don’t have that perspective, but not for the reasons Dr. Bell suggests. They don’t understand the question. Their model of logic is much more circular. They do not put so much emphasis on the singular and direct linkage of cause and effect. I have a big Gallic nose and round eyes and was born in the US of Caucasian parents of French and Irish descent. Of course I am a foreigner. What else would I be?

The good news is that while a foreigner will always be a foreigner in the eyes of a Chinese person, that is a statement of reality, not a judgment of character or worth. It is no more pejorative than my observation that a dog is a dog.

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There have surely been Chinese over the course of history that held foreigners in low esteem. There are some still. I’m not sure that came from our facial features or our language and place of birth, however. The fact that a colonial foreign power flooded their country with opium in the 19th Century, and even went to war to insure a trade their own country had outlawed, or that foreigners have repeatedly invaded their country, pillaged their land, and treated their people in sub-human ways, surely has something to do with it.

Frankly, I would question my wife’s mental health if she started to refer to me as her Chinese husband or herself as my American wife. I certainly wouldn’t cheer it as a victory for American assimilation. American greatness is a mindset and a set of shared values. It is neither ethnicity nor identity.

We should classify people in the ways that really matter. The way you look, the color of your skin, and even your historical or cultural identity don’t really define who you are. Identity politics doesn’t promote identity issues in the end. It takes identity off the table of public discourse. The lines of identity are hardened, not erased.

There is much about American history, including slavery, Vietnam, the McCarthy hearings, Japanese internment, and many of our historical attitudes about race and gender, that I don’t identify with. That doesn’t make me any less American any more than my shared identity with much of Chinese culture makes me Chinese.

I hope my wife and Chinese friends never judge me by how I dress, or the language I speak, or even my admiration for China and its rich history. I would much rather be the foreigner with the big nose who is a person with strong personal values of integrity and compassion that they are proud to call friend and husband.

Contact: You may reach the author at gary@glassmakerinchina.com

Gary Moreau’s fictional novel written under the pen name of Avam Hale.

Certainty: Poison Arrows & Weasel News

Author Gary Moreau

My two daughters, a freshman and junior in high school, spent some time with me over the July 4th holiday. Among many other activities we spent a day at the Detroit Zoo, where we sat down to a basket of chicken fingers in the shadow of the Polar Bear exhibit. (The Polar bears, unfortunately, were all asleep in their caves and nowhere to be seen.)

We were reminiscing about the house we had lived in at the time of their birth and, quite randomly, the conversation turned to feng shui, the Chinese philosophical system of harmonizing our physical surroundings with the invisible forces of qi that many Eastern cultures believe binds the universe and everything in it.

Feng shui is closely related to Taoism and has millions of followers worldwide, including the US, where you can hire feng shui consultants to help you choose and decorate a new home in places like California and New York. I am not a disciple. After living on this earth for more than six decades, however, one of them among the Chinese, there are few belief systems I dismiss out of hand.

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I noted, as a result, with no intention of defending the idea, that our previous family home had very bad feng shui because it was located at the tip of a poison arrow—it sat atop a “T” in the road it fronted. While feng shui had little to do with our choices in landscaping the property, I playfully joked that we had planted a large tree in front of our front door to dissipate the negative energy before it could enter the house.

While I thought the conversation was all in good fun, however, my daughters immediately jumped to judgment. “How can you believe in such nonsense?” my eldest daughter asked with obvious incredulity. “The blood of a tree is sap, which is water filled with nutrients and minerals, not some mystical force that can’t even be seen with a microscope.”

Fair enough. But I am a card-carrying contrarian and my own sap is filled with curiosity. I was intrigued and decided to pursue the conversation. “Why,” I asked, “do you dismiss something simply because you can’t see it or touch it? Wouldn’t science itself suggest neutrality? The existence of qi, after all, has not been disproved, and there is no logical reason that nutrients and qi can’t co-exist.”

You’ve already heard the rest of the conversation I’m sure. This proved to be just one of many discussions in which my daughters—already my oratorical equals—took exception with my reservations about one-dimensional notions of cause and effect. The best I could hope for in any of these debates was an exasperated draw. I seldom moved the needle into the zone of doubt, much less acceptance of alternative interpretations of commonly held Western beliefs.

In the end, to be honest, I actually agreed with most of the positions they took. I am a bona fide Westerner. I was quite unnerved, however, by the certainty with which they took them.

Many of my readers will quickly dismiss all of this as merely another example of the challenge of living with teenagers who are constantly testing the boundaries of their knowledge and identity. If not a false parenting rationalization, however, it is a dangerous one. When we start stifling curiosity and fortifying the mind against healthy doubt, we sow the seeds of social and personal stagnation, if not destruction.

But isn’t that what we—the adults of the world—are currently doing? Are we teaching our children anything quite as consistently and fervently as we are teaching them by our example to be certain in their beliefs?

As I write this world leaders are wrapping up the G20 summit in Hamburg, Germany. And despite my earnest attempts to stay abreast of developments at this very important gathering, I know virtually nothing about what really transpired. Nearly all of the “reporting” I read from both sides of the political divide could easily have been written well in advance.

The problem with certainty, of course, is the problem with any myopia. You may be right or you may be wrong. Certainty, however, makes it certain that you will never know. Understanding, like knowledge itself, is a continuum, not a destination.

Certainty is a noun. And it is self-fulfilling. Once we believe something with certainty everything we observe tends to reinforce that certainty because we inevitably filter all observation and thought in the interest of efficiency. We see and hear, in the most literal sense, exactly what we expect to. Our certainty, as a result, fossilizes.

Certainty, in fact, is the breeding ground of the contemporary notion of “fake news” that is so hotly debated in the US political arena these days. Fake news may or may not be factual in any literal or narrowly defined sense. It is inevitably misleading, however. It’s weasel news.

“Weasel words” is a term coined by author Steward Chaplin in 1900, and popularized by Theodore Roosevelt. They are the words and phrases that suck the meaning out of claims, much like the weasel sucks out the meat of the egg while leaving the shell intact. By compromising the context within which a claim is made, they provide cover for those who wish to mislead or misinform without being blatant about it.

In the context of news, words like “many”, “few”, “might”, and “suggest”, are typical weasel words; suggestive but not dimensional. “Many experts,” for example, is somewhere between a handful and a boat full.

Politicians and the news media use weasel words all the time to make things that aren’t supported by fact sound like they are. In the narrowest sense, the words are factual. The intent, however, is far from neutral.

Weasel news typically employs weasel words but is slightly broader in context. Typically honest words can become dishonest when used in a certain order that may not violate the formal rules of language but compromises clarity and camouflages subjective innuendo.

When reporters noted that violent protestors greeted Trump’s first G20 meeting, you might assume that the protestors were there because of their anger toward the US President alone. That, of course, may or may not have been the case in any verifiable scientific sense. If challenged on the implication, however, the newscaster can claim that the observable violent protests took place at a meeting that was, indeed, Trump’s first.

Confidence, of course, can be a good thing. Every parent wants to build confidence in his or her children. Confidence gives us the strength to do the right thing in the face of choice. And it contributes to the efficiency of our actions and behaviors, allowing us to do the right thing more often.

Life is a dichotomy, however, and the state of certainty is no exception. Certainty is also an essential element of hate, racism, and ignorance. It is a medium, used consciously or not, for disinformation since we all know from experience that the presence of certainty itself enhances our willingness to fall for undocumented innuendo.

Both the members of the G20 (Referred to as the G19 by one news outlet, in yet another example of “fake” but technically defensible reporting.) and my daughters are all back home now. And while I have no opinion about what progress may or may not have been made at the G20, I am saddened that my daughters do not greet me in the morning, at least until their next visit.

Whether or not my daughters ever accept the existence of poison arrows, I love them dearly. Of that I am certain. And flipping the dichotomy of certainty once again, genuine love is the best kind of news there is.

Contact: You may reach the author at gary@glassmakerinchina.com

Another sample from the author’s latest book, Understanding Business: The Logic of Balance, available at Amazon in paperback and Kindle formats.

So, while it is true that a company must actively manage its employees in the interest of performance, it is equally true that dehumanizing employees to the extent that relationships and connections are inhibited is counterproductive. Some balance between the recognition of our individual humanity and the need for collective performance must be struck.

The Duality of Cybersecurity

Author Gary Moreau

On June 1 China began the implementation of a new cybersecurity law that is already being labeled “controversial” by the Western media. The context of this story, I think, is illuminating on many fronts.

That the Internet has become a scary place for citizens, corporations, and governments alike seems beyond debate at this point. Every government on the planet is taking steps to protect its national secrets from foreign hackers. China would be imprudent not to follow suit.

There are three provisions of this new law that appear to be the source of most of the anxiety in the West.

The first is that the law is relatively vague. This, of course, is by design and reflects the polar opposite approaches the US and China take to regulation. In the US the law would be spelled out in mind-numbing detail. And would-be violators would hire an army of lobbyists to craft loopholes and lawyers to exploit them.

The Chinese, in contrast, leave much of the interpretation in the hands of the regulators, not the lobbyists and lawyers. In this way, they largely eliminate the very existence of loopholes.

There are cons to every pro, of course, and the question of which approach to regulation is ‘best’ is no exception. On balance, however, while the Chinese approach opens the door to inconsistent enforcement, the American approach clearly favors those with the money to pay the best lobbyists and lawyers.

The second objection is that the new law requires all state secrets to be stored on servers within China. Many American companies operating in China now keep their servers and their IT on American soil, despite the fact that the IT industry in China is generally on a par with the West.

It’s easy to understand why the Chinese government wants to see this change. You don’t have to be a conspiracy theorist to believe there is a reasonable chance that the US government has access to any server sitting within its borders. Perhaps it’s official; perhaps not. It’s not unreasonable to assume the risk exists, however, particularly given the US government’s openness about using IT to protect its own national security interests, both defensively and pro-actively. (To say nothing of private or foreign government hackers finding their way in.)

The third objection is that the law will require American hardware and service providers to open their products and services to some level of government scrutiny. The fear, one assumes, is that these companies will be circuitously giving their own secrets to their Chinese competitors. It could happen, in theory, although one has to wonder if it would be worth the risk for China. And isn’t there always a cost of entry, even to the US?

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These are the most vocally noted objections of the West, but I think there are a couple more issues at play, consciously or not.

The first is one I’ve referred to many times. It is the importance of the Chinese Century of Humiliation in the mindset of the current Chinese government. China was invaded and pillaged by foreign powers for much of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. And there is a national commitment not to let it happen in the future.

No one is currently attempting to force the import of opium or seeking land concessions. And there are no foreign troops on Chinese soil. Many foreign companies, however, have gone into China over the last three decades to reap the rewards of the second largest economy in the world, but left many of their best paying jobs at home – including many IT jobs.

There is nothing illegal about that. Perhaps nothing even unfair or underhanded given the risks for IP theft that exist in a country that admits it has a less stringent legal system currently in place than in the West. Nonetheless, the line between a legitimate reason and an excuse is drawn with perception. Is President Trump’s proposed immigration law aimed at Muslims even though that word is never actually mentioned in the regulation?

The biggest issue here, however, is what I believe ultimately prevents the West from really understanding China and its motivations. It has nothing to do with government suppression and everything to do with culture.

In the US we put individual rights and freedoms above all else. That, we believe, will result in a free and progressive society and there has been a lot of historical evidence to support that conviction, although a quick perusal of the daily news would suggest that argument might be fraying a bit at the seams.

The Chinese, on the other hand, have much more of a collectivist worldview. They believe that protection of society as a whole will, in turn, maximize individual well-being.

As Westerners we automatically attribute the Chinese perspective to the presumed oppression of a one-party political system (i.e., the Communist Party). That, however, is a bit of an over-simplification. There are many collectivist societies around the world that have no Communist Party. And even many Americans are beginning to accept that even dictatorships aren’t all bad when it comes to keeping a nation prone to civil war and ethnic exploitation at peace. The implosion of much of the Middle East and North Africa has obviously weakened the doctrine of “give them democracy and peace and prosperity will follow.”

The Communist Party came to power in China in 1949. For thousands of years prior to that, however, China was a nation of warring factions. There are fifty-six officially recognized ethnic groups in China today and, depending how you define them, hundreds of different languages and dialects. (Although Mandarin is the one official language, dozens of these languages are unintelligible to each other.)

While the Chinese I have met over the years are just as quick to criticize their government as most Americans are to criticize theirs, as a result, there is a general consensus among the Chinese that China requires a strong central government to insure progress – whether you define that in terms of law and order or economic opportunity.

In other words, the individual rights of the citizens in China are legitimized through government authority acting in the best interests of the collective society. In the US, by contrast, government authority, in theory, is legitimized through individual rights and freedoms.

There are two sides to every argument, of course. And most Chinese, I believe, openly recognize that there are both pros and cons to socialism with Chinese characteristics, as the Chinese refer to it.

I wonder, however, if we aren’t losing sight of that inescapable duality in America today (i.e., the duality of pro and con), and if that isn’t at the core of much of what ails us politically. When we start seeing the world as one-dimensional, whichever dimension that is, and whichever interest we put first, are we not creating exactly what it is we denigrate elsewhere in the world?

Contact: You may contact the author at gary@glassmakerinchina.com

The inevitable duality of pro and con. Do Americans still accept it?

What’s the Point?

Author Gary Moreau

When it comes to this blog I admit to being in my worst funk since I launched it in 2013. It’s not that I have anything less to say or any less passion to say it. It’s more like, what’s the point?

They say that globalism is dead in the US. What’s really died, however, is any form of civil public dialogue. It’s engagement that’s dead. And it’s not the people who voted Trump into office that killed it. It’s the people who should know better. It’s exactly the people with the skills and the experience to facilitate an informed and open public discourse that have apparently abandoned any responsibility to do so.

If you are like me you paid scant attention to Trump’s first overseas trip this past week. There was nothing to pay attention to. All of the coverage had to do with Trump feeling at home in the golden palaces of the Middle East; the “I don’t want to hold your hand” incident; Melania’s wardrobe; the “shove”; the handshake; the turned back; the whatever. Who cares? Or, more to the point, why should anyone care?

And the Russians?

I grew up at the height of the Cold War within twenty miles of a US Air Force Strategic Air Command base that kept B-52s laden with nuclear weapons in the air 24/7. They flew over our house every day on approach and take off.

My grade school held frequent drills in which we were required to practice huddling under our desks with our hands cupped behind our heads. Except for the kindergarteners. They weren’t disciplined enough for that so they huddled together under a large blanket in the middle of the room and made a game of it.

Our next-door neighbor built an elaborate underground bomb shelter stocked with a warehouse worth of provisions and a dry chemical toilet. The neighborhood kids used to play hide and seek there. But even to the children – perhaps only the children – it was a bleak place indeed. It felt more like a haunted house than a monument to American grit and perseverance.

And as a boy of eight I remember observing my parents watching the Cuban Missile Crisis unfold on television. They were both veterans of WW II and, as was their custom when it came to such matters, didn’t say much about it. Even a young boy, however, knew the stakes were high.

I don’t believe, in other words, I need to be told much of anything about the Russians. I certainly don’t need to watch the endless political posturing about who talked to whom (I certainly hope someone is talking out of public view.) and whether or not anyone tried to influence the election. (Of course they did. The US has been doing it for decades.)

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And what about China? As I had hoped, Trump did back down on Taiwan. And he hasn’t started a trade war. Nor has he done much to dissuade China out of its ambitions in the South China Sea. (And he won’t.)

Trump does take some credit for getting China to take a firmer hand with North Korea although there are few visible signs of that and, in the end, to the extent China has done anything it has done exactly what it believes is in its best interests. That’s okay. That’s the way the world works. The US doesn’t have a monopoly on self-interest. As Freud said, all of life is personal.

Diplomacy, in the end, is not a matter of negotiation. It is a matter of engagement. As an American businessman working in China I learned that firsthand. I dealt with government officials nearly every day. And, yes, there may come a time for negotiation. But you can’t negotiate with someone who is not engaged with you or your issues.

I am not a Chinese apologist any more than I am a Russian apologist. I am, however, someone who has seen and experienced much of the world and who believes that, like it or not, we are all in this together. Hiding in our shell and closing our borders is like grade school children hiding under their desks.

There is no first or second in this race. There is only win or lose – for all of us. We have to start thinking less about bending others to our will and focus more of our efforts on defining and implementing our collective global will.

To be honest, I don’t care, as is pointed out to us daily, how much the US government is spending on protection for the Trump family. It’s chump change and it goes with the job. How much are we spending on Congressional pensions and healthcare?

And I could not care less what coat Melania Trump wore outside the Chierici Palace in the town of Catania, Italy, when posing with the G7 entourage. (Have you seen the pictures coming out of Cannes?) There is not a US politician who can throw a ‘tone deaf’ rock at that glass house. (A twenty-minute speech at a big investment bank could easily pay for a coat like that.)

I don’t, in fact, care so much about the debate over ‘globalism.’ It’s a debate of little meaning in today’s world. That horse is long out of the barn.

I do, however, care about the polarization of wealth in America today. It will bring the country down. It always has.

Mostly, though, I care about engagement. I want to engage with my children. I want to engage with my wife. I want to engage my neighbors of every background and ethnicity. And I want to see our leaders engage with China, Russia, Mexico, and the rest of the world. There may come a time for blame. There may come a time for negotiation. There may even come a time to be forceful. How on God’s green earth, however, will we know when that is if we don’t engage first?

Contact: You may reach the author at understandingchina@yahoo.com. Mr. Moreau is also available for public speaking and the provision of third-party written content on a wide variety of topics for your website or other communications material.

Ranking the Division

The author delivering a recent lecture to international business and Chinese culture students at North Central College.

In my book, Understanding China, I proffer that a lot of the difference between Chinese culture and Western culture can be traced to the fact that Chinese culture is built on an intellectual foundation of inductive logic while Western culture is built on an intellectual foundation of deductive logic. The Scientific Method is a deductive methodology for decipering reality. Conjecture, on the other hand, which starts with an observation and speculates cause, is inductive.

And in a classic test of chicken and egg that I will leave to the theologians, it should be no surprise that the monotheistic religions of the West are all deductive in structure. The Eastern religions, by contrast, including Taoism, Buddhism, and Chinese folk religion, are more inductive. Taoists, for example, believe that the universe is simply too complex for the human mind to comprehend.

The deductive/inductive distinction, however, goes well beyond helping to explain the differences in Eastern and Western cultural norms. It further provides a conceptual framework for explaining the sheer intensity of the resentment and division that plagues Western societies today.

Just as science has shown the universe to be in a constant state of expansion, deduction is not a static worldview. It feeds on itself. As time passes the deductive worldview inevitably seeks to become even more deductive, setting the stage for an even stronger belief in the linear relationship of cause and effect that is at the heart of deduction.

Opinions, in other words, naturally get stronger and ultimately morph into something approaching either passion or hate. We don’t just disagree; we despise.

To the deductive thinker every relationship is both linear and measureable. One attribute of the deductively logical mind, therefore, is the desire to rank things. We incessantly rank our sports teams. We rank the best places to retire; the best public schools; the best cars, and the best travel destinations.

I was reminded of the extreme lengths we are willing to go to rank things when U.S. News and World Report, in partnership with Y&R’s BAV Consulting and The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, recently unveiled its 2017 ranking of 80 countries on 65 attributes.

The “best” country overall was Switzerland. With a population of only 8.3 million, which a relatively small portion of the world’s population has ever visited, I suspect, Switzerland scored well in the categories of “Citizenship” and “Open for Business,” but only reached #20 in the category “Adventure”, perhaps because it scored relatively low in “Sexy.” Brazil, which ranked #28 overall, ranked #1 in “Adventure” on the back of strong rankings for “Fun” and “Sexy.”

Understanding China is available at Amazon in paper and electronic formats.

The United States ranked #7 overall – after Switzerland, Canada, United Kingdom, Germany, Japan, and Sweden – with a #1 ranking for “Power”. It scored only #35, however, in both “Adventure” and “Open for Business,” the former probably because of a paltry score of only 0.6 for “Sexy.”

China ranked #20 overall despite top-5 rankings in “Power” (#3) and “Movers” (#4). It ranked #59 in “Adventure,” however, with only a 1.3 score for “Fun”.

And who determines what is “Sexy” and what is “Fun?” Well, there’s the telling catch. The ranking is based on the perceptions of 21,372 online survey participants, all of whom hail from only 36 of the 80 countries ranked. More than half of the respondents were classified by the survey’s authors as “informed elites.”

What I deduce from all of this is that this ranking is yet another hierarchy of perceptions. And perceptions are subjective. They are opinions. While they may be informed opinions, they nonetheless don’t carry the weight of fact.

And therein lies the problem with today’s public discourse. In our quest to shape our deductive worldview we have lost the intellectual discipline of deduction itself. Our leaders of every stripe no longer seek to contribute to debate so much as they seek to win it – to dominate and crush those of an opposing view.

The ultimate lesson, I believe, is that deduction, despite the appearance of absolute objectivity, is not linear in the end. It ultimately folds back on itself and all sense of balance is lost. The fact-centric become the opinion-centric. The tools of deduction become the weapons of division and derision.

It is a slippery slope. And, yes, that is an opinion induced from observation and proudly acknowledged as such. I may be wrong. And I, for one, find that immensely liberating.

Contact: You may reach the author at understandingchina@yahoo.com. Mr. Moreau is also available for public speaking and the provision of third-party written content on a wide variety of topics for your website or other communications material.

China’s One Child Policy

Author Gary Moreau

I published Understanding China: There is Reason for the Difference in 2015. And I had been compiling the content of the book for the eight years I had lived and worked in China, putting it all in the context of what was then my sixty-one years of life experience.

While books are normally classified as fiction or non-fiction, I’ve always thought of this book as a book of understanding. As noted in the introduction I was trying to decipher the why behind the what regarding the differences between Western and Chinese culture. The objective was to become less frustrated by the differences, when simply knowing what to expect wasn’t enough, and to become more pro-active in my ability to influence behaviors in the workplace and marketplace.

Books, however, except for classic literature, tend to be a snapshot taken at a point of time. The author’s thinking naturally evolves over time. The subject matter likewise evolves. And in the case of China that evolution continues at breakneck speed, or, what I call in the book China Time.

I am giving an American college lecture on China next week and in the preparation I started to think about the ways in which my thinking had changed since writing the book. In addition to the evening lecture I am conducting a Q&A session with a class that is using Understanding China as a textbook this semester to answer the class’ questions and provide further elaboration on points of interest.

As a result of this introspection the one area in which I concluded my thinking had changed the most was in regard to China’s one child policy, officially known as the family planning policy. The policy was implemented in 1979 in response to rapid population growth that the country deemed unsustainable. (China’s population has nearly tripled since 1949 and the founding of the PRC.)

Understanding China is available at Amazon in paper and electronic formats.

In the book I reiterated the commonly held belief, both inside and outside of China, that the one child policy would inhibit the natural development of the ability to collaborate and work as a team, essential qualities in the modern workplace. The single child of single child parents, with no aunts, uncles, or cousins, I believed, would not learn the skills of diplomacy or cooperation necessary in our shrinking world due to the lack of competition for scarce resources, material as well as emotional, during their youth.

In retrospect, I was wrong. And here’s why.

In Western cultures we put primary emphasis on individual rights and freedoms. You have merely to glance at your preferred source of news today to see this reality on display in today’s Western political arena. Compromise and cooperation, let alone civility, is notably absent in most of our public discourse.

The Chinese, however, are much more collectivist in their perspective and cultural emphasis. They understand and support the idea of the common good, and are quite willing to sacrifice their personal rights in support of that collective well being.

My widowed Chinese wife, for example, who grew up in a family of five children, with ten aunts and uncles and close to fifty cousins, was herself limited to one child. When asked, however, she sincerely supports the government’s decision to implement the policy. While she would have preferred to have more children, she believes it was the pragmatic thing to do for the benefit of China as a whole. As a result, she holds no grudge whatsoever against the government for what, to most Westerners, would be perceived as a gross violation of her individual rights and freedoms.

I also, at the time of writing the book, failed to fully integrate into my thinking the degree to which Chinese culture is built on relationships and the Confucian obligation that flows from them. In essence, it is this circle of relationships and obligations that serve to provide the same influences on a Chinese child that siblings and cousins provide in most Western cultures. Society essentially serves as a giant eco-system of extended family even though each individual set of parents may themselves have only one child.

If you go for a walk in a public park in Beijing, for example, as I often did, you will encounter relatively few individuals. You will encounter a few young couples that are, perhaps, courting or recently married. But most of the people you will encounter will be in groups, large and small.

Many will be families, which are often three-generational. (Child, parents, grandparents) Most, however, will simply be groups of individuals out for a collective outing. Some will simply be friends while others may be work units, such as a department within a company, spending time together both by choice and as a result of their sense of obligation to socialize with their workmates.

It is this abundance of social interaction, in the context of a culture that emphasizes obligation within a relationship, which provides much of the development of social and collaborative skills that Westerners of my generation learned within the larger family unit common to the West at the time.

In fact, with the advent of the nuclear family and a noted reduction in the birth rate in many Western cultures, it might be argued that the West is moving in the opposite direction. It is the West, not the East, which is suffering from an inability to work together, compromise, and collaborate. Certainly the curtain political climate here in the US would support that conclusion. (It’s an observation. If the comment makes you angry, you might be proving my point.)

In recent years, of course, the Chinese government has eased the restrictions of the one child policy, largely in anticipation of a rapidly graying society and the recognition that the Chinese labor force will shrink considerably in the years ahead.

It has had some possible impact on birth rates although it hasn’t been material and isolating the true cause is difficult at best. In one Western news report I recently read, for example, the writer noted that the birth rate in China grew last year and attributed that increase solely to the modification made to the one child policy.

The writer failed to note, however, that last year was the Year of the Monkey, the monkey being considered a very auspicious sign, while the year before was the Year of the Sheep. The sheep is generally considered a less propitious sign.

While taken by most Chinese and foreigners with a large grain of salt, these zodiacal predictions do impact birth rates nonetheless. Some expectant mothers, for example, asked their doctors to induce labor to insure their child was born in the Year of the Dragon (2012); the dragon commonly considered to be one of the most favorable signs to be born under.

The one child policy, of course, isn’t the only area where my thinking has evolved since publishing Understanding China. I mostly got it right, I think. And that’s not bad when writing about a culture and a place as fluid as present day China.

Contact: You may reach the author at understandingchina@yahoo.com. Mr. Moreau is also available for public speaking and the provision of third-party written content on a wide variety of topics for your website or other communications material.

Acceptance

Author Gary Moreau

My 15 and 13 year-old daughters visited me over the holidays and we had a wonderful time together. We went skiing, skating, ate ice cream and chocolate chip pancakes, and I taught them backgammon.

When we went out for breakfast one day the server initially approached our table with three 16 oz. glasses of water filled to the brim with ice. (I know the capacity because I used to make that glass.) Having dined out only a few times since returning from China, it was a very out-of-the-ordinary sight for me. The Chinese seldom use ice in their drinks and no restaurant would ever serve a beverage containing ice unless the customer had specifically requested it. Even then you would only get one or two cubes, if they had any at all.

Few cultural habits are the result of a single cause but the Chinese habit of going ice-less is largely medicinal. The Chinese believe that everything introduced to the stomach should be as close to body temperature or above as possible. This, they believe, promotes healthy digestion and, in the case of water, absorption.

On the American side, we have come to believe that chilled drinks are more refreshing, particularly in warm weather. Restaurants, however, had a big hand in this conviction, just as Hallmark had a big hand in building the popularity of Valentine’s Day. A glass full of ice holds less of the drink itself, leading restaurants to believe that a glass full of ice is cheaper – and thus more profitable – than a glass without.

Like most Americans, I was an ardent fan of ice for most of my life. After living in China for six months, however, I gave up on ice and accepted the Chinese habit of drinking water at room temperature. Beyond buying into the health benefits, it was just too much hassle to get ice. And while no restaurant would serve water that had not been boiled or purified, you couldn’t be so sure about the ice.

Ice also requires a lot of energy to make. So while why my primary motivation for eschewing ice was as stated above, I ultimately came to wonder just how much energy is consumed in the US in the production of ice for beverages. I don’t know the exact number for sure, but I will bet it’s the equivalent of several power plants. Ice, as a result, surely contributes significantly to the US carbon footprint – the largest in the world per capita.

Now, I am not a ‘tree hugger’ in any political sense, but I am a conservationist and believe in taking all of the simple steps we can to reducing the environmental impact of our behavior. Raised in a very outdoor family with its roots in northern New Hampshire I believed that long before ‘carbon footprint’ entered the lexicon. Which is why, in part, I continue to live without ice.

When I posed the issue to my daughters over breakfast, however, more to get them thinking than to change their well-ingrained behavior, they were aghast. They were simply incapable of getting their heads around a world of beverages without ice. And they were quite animated and agitated in their reactions. “Are you out of your mind? Don’t you find a cold drink to be more refreshing on a hot day?”

“Of course I do. I’m not suggesting that I prefer living with no ice. But I have come to accept it.”

Understanding China is available at Amazon in paper and electronic formats.

Acceptance, however, is in short supply in the US today. Somehow the core American value of ‘rugged individualism’ has come to cast a very unflattering light on the very concept. Both conservatives and progressives alike have come to equate acceptance with weakness, even evil and immorality. “No compromise” is the new battle cry. Conflicting opinions are considered less than ill-informed and misguided; they are vile, the result of stupidity, prejudice, or arrogance.

As much as I would like to put 2016 behind me as we enter a new year, this was clearly manifested during last year’s US election cycle. Despite some of the embracing rhetoric, acceptance wasn’t really on anyone’s agenda. It was a narrowly defined concept at best.

This is very unfortunate and does not bode well for our collective future. When acceptance becomes out of favor wars result; forms of apartheid flourish; discrimination becomes mainstream; and social and economic progress stall, or accrue only to the few.

At the ‘ice breakfast’, therefore, I made the New Year’s resolution to invigorate my ability to accept. And to encourage that value in my daughters.

The problem with acceptance, however, is that you must be a little accepting to accept the wisdom of acceptance. It’s not selling out. And while it is a form of compromise, it is only compromise in a very narrowly defined context.

Just think what would happen if we all became just a little more accepting. We might not wean ourselves off of ice, but we would, collectively, be in a much better place.

Think about that the next time you stand at the ice dispenser built into your refrigerator door. Consciousness is the first step toward progress.

The Chinese taught me that.

Happy New Year!

Contact: You may reach the author at understandingchina@yahoo.com. Mr. Moreau is also available for public speaking and the provision of third-party written content on a wide variety of topics for your website or other communications material.

The Larger Context

Author Gary Moreau

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.

Understanding China is available at Amazon in paper and electronic formats.

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 understandingchina@yahoo.com. Mr. Moreau is also available for public speaking and the provision of third-party written content for your website or other communications material.

Synchronicity

Author Gary Moreau
Author Gary Moreau

As predicted, the acrimony of the 2016 US presidential election has now degenerated into the virulence of the post-election analysis and finger pointing.

The Chinese can help.

Western culture is built on a deductive, scientific worldview. Above all else, we believe in the sanctity of cause and effect. If A, then B, etc. Always. Every time.

When something happens that we don’t like, as a result, we take it personally. We’re offended. Science did not win the day. If it had we would not be here. (The monotheistic religions, by the way, are different faces of objectivism. Both organized religion and science rely heavily on cause and effect. Which is not to say that either is in error.)

The Chinese worldview, on the other hand, is inductive in nature. It starts with the effect and works back. Not everything, therefore, can be explained. To the Taoist (also called Daoist), in fact, nothing can. The way of the universe is merely too complex for humans to comprehend.

Understanding China is now available at Amazon in paper and electronic formats.
Understanding China is now available at Amazon in paper and electronic formats.

So, too, perhaps, is American politics. I have read article after article since the election that claims to solve the riddle of what happened. The articles are full of science, or, in this case, statistics. This group stayed home; this group split; this group was angry. On and on and on.

The Chinese, I believe, would be inclined to explain it all this way. (Since they aren’t inclined to explain things that have already happened this is obviously only an opinion.) I think they would scratch their chin and say, “Donald Trump won because he received more Electoral College votes.”

Carl Gustav Jung (1875 – 1961) was the famous Swiss psychiatrist who coined the term synchronicity. While I can’t do the topic justice in this short blog, Jung believed in “meaningful coincidences” that had no causal relationship other than their meaningfulness. He also referred to it as “acausal parallelism”, but I think the more appropriate contemporary description might be “s_it happens.”

A key to synchronicity is the notion of the collective unconscious, a common thread to all of us that we are unaware of and can’t explain. That makes it, by definition, decidedly unscientific and, to some, fatalistic.

Jung, who was not Chinese, was a student of Taoism and Buddhism, both of which undoubtedly provide some trail markers as to how he got to synchronicity. As somewhat of a Chinese inductivist, however, I’m not sure it matters.

The Chinese are not devastated by this election. Nor would they have been should the other side have won. They won’t be doing any internal soul-searching about where to go from here. They know exactly where they’re going and they fully intend to get there.

And I won’t bet against them. I have no idea what kind of president Donald Trump will be. Any more than I had any idea of what kind of president Secretary Clinton would have been. That’s up to the collective unconscious to sort out.

I only know that ongoing vitriol won’t solve anything. It will surely be the Chinese Century if we spend it fruitlessly dissecting the cause and effect of past events.

Contact: You may reach the author at understandingchina@yahoo.com