Tag Archives: American politics

Noblesse Obligee


Author Gary Moreau, aka Avam Hale in fiction

I am an avid reader of books. Perhaps it was all of that time I spent on an airplane over the years (well over one million miles). Perhaps it was my preference for solitude and the stimulation of my own thoughts. It doesn’t matter. I read a lot and have begun to share my thoughts on the many books I read via Amazon and Goodreads. (I am currently an Amazon Top 500 reviewer.)

There have been a rash of books, of late, regarding the economic, political, and social malaise engulfing the western world. The best among them, in my opinion, is Can Democracy Survive Global Capitalism? by Robert Kuttner, cofounder and coeditor of The American Prospect magazine, and a professor at Brandeis University. I can’t recommend the book highly enough. I’ve posted reviews on Amazon and Goodreads if you are interested.

Many contemporary books have resurrected the term “Fascism,” and drawn fearful parallels between the state of the world today and Europe in the period leading up to World War II. The most direct linkage is provided by former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, in her book, Fascism: A Warning.

Kuttner has little to say about China directly but Albright and the others, too numerous to mention, do. And the core of their assessment appears to be that because the Chinese people do not go to the polls to elect their president in the way that Americans do, and because the government will figuratively silence political dissidents that it deems will disrupt social security and harmony, China must be “evil” in the same sense that Mussolini and Hitler were.

It is, I believe, a tragic and unfortunate misinterpretation of world events that is empowered by the western media’s own fascist pre-occupation with being able to say whatever it wants to say, true or not, and without regard for overall social harmony, which is the only time that productive change can actually take root.

I have long believed that one of the most important hallmarks of being an American is respect for authenticity. My father referred to it as “a man that is comfortable in his own skin.” To me it means a man or woman who speaks and behaves in a way that accurately reflects the person they are and the things that they believe in. And, of course, that he or she believes in the dignity of all people, regardless of wealth, class, race, gender, ethnicity, or ability.

The Chinese, I believe, are very authentic—once you understand their culture. If you evaluate Chinese behavior through American eyes you will, as many Americans do, conclude that the Chinese are a bit rude, don’t always tell the truth, and can be more than a bit pushy. These, however, are false impressions created by the American tendency to evaluate the world against our own standards. That is American culture and it is built on the Aristotelian belief in the linear logic of cause and effect.

What I like about Mr. Kuttner’s book, and believe me that he has not read or authorized this reference, is that he seems to appreciate that cause is less important than effect. Politically speaking, that means that a benevolent dictator that genuinely believes in the dignity of the common man is far superior than a man who is democratically elected (both Mussolini and Hitler were) but who, in his heart, believes himself superior to all others.

I grew up living only miles from a US nuclear air base that was the point of the spear of America’s “mutually assured destruction” (MAD) strategy in the Cold War with the USSR. As an elementary school student in the early 1960s I vividly remember practicing hiding under our desks at school, hands behind our heads, to prepare for possible nuclear annihilation by the Russians. (The kindergarten students, as I recall, were not disciplined enough to follow the protocol, so they all huddled beneath a large blanket.)

John F. Kennedy was the president of the US at the time and my parents trusted him. He was a lot of things that misaligned with their personal values, but they believed that he was a good man, so when he told them to sit tight during the Cuban Missile Crisis, they did just that. They talked about it; they asked questions; but they ultimately believed that Mr. Kennedy would do the right thing.


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First introduced in Homer’s Iliad, and later given prominence by the great French writer, Honoré de Balzac, the phrase noblesse obligee comes to mind. Essentially, whatever your personal pedigree, we all should have an innate commitment to our common humanity. And it is that commitment that ultimately matters in our assessment of our leaders. They may have gained power by the ballot box or the sword (and there is little difference, in the end), but it is what they do with that power that ultimately matters most.

In evaluating both China and the US, at the moment, I care not how wealthy President Trump is. I care not about his negotiating skills. I care not about what he says to the cheering crowds he assembles among the disenfranchised. I care only what he does or does not do.

In the case of Chairman Xi Jinping, I feel the same. I care not that he is a member of the Communist Party of China, the word communist itself bringing back terrible memories of the Soviet leaders who my teachers convinced me were anxious to take my life. I care not that his government does not allow full freedom of the press to say whatever it wishes. I care not that he employs whatever means necessary to maintain social harmony. I care, in the end, only about what he does and the degree to which he is authentic and committed to the common men and women of China.

And while we are in the early innings of a very long game on both sides of the Pacific, here is my tally to date:

USA: President Trump is authentic, but authentic in all of the wrong ways for a leader of the strongest nation on the planet. He is a corporatist in populist clothing. In the end he has only a romantic appreciation of the working men and women who made America what it is today. He is a New York elitist with an insatiable appetite for gold and limousines.

China: President Xi Jinping is not a Maoist but he is true to Mao’s original guiding light. Mr. Xi is not his father, but he is true to his authenticity. Mr. Xi, himself, is authentic. He truly believes in the Chinese Dream he talks so much about and has the personal and managerial skills to bring it to life.

If we evaluate a country and a culture not by the press’ ability to print anything it likes in the interest of selling its wares, but by the alignment of the government and the interests of the common person, China gets my nod.

I will share one specific example but there are many more:

While living in China my wife and I ventured down into one of the most popular walking streets in the heart of Beijing one Sunday afternoon to observe the throngs and to enjoy a taste of barbecue. In the middle of this very crowded street was an elderly couple from some far flung rural province that had ventured to Beijing to air some personal grievance with the local government where they lived. Both wore large sandwich boards and paper hats detailing these grievances.

Before long, the police, naturally, showed up. None of them, so far as I could tell, however, were armed. They wore no helmets and carried no shields or batons. The most senior among them, judging by his age, approached the couple and spoke to them in terms I did not understand, but his hands were clasped lightly behind his back the entire time. Nothing about the authorities was menacing in any way.

Eventually the police officer, a federal security officer to be precise, stood back and the couple was allowed to walk in a circle for several minutes. Everyone in China has a smart phone, of course, so the audience was large and many were filming the events. And after several minutes the couple walked toward the nearby police van and climbed in, with the policemen and policewomen’s deference and assistance.

My point here is not to fawn over President Xi Jinping, or to suggest that China does not have its challenges. It is, quite simply, to suggest that the ultimate democratic ideal is a commitment to truth and authenticity. And in that regard, the United States, in 2018, should stand in judgment of few others, and China is not among them.

He may ultimately prove me wrong. At the moment, however, Xi Jinping would have my vote, should China be so foolish, which it won’t, to give me one.

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My newest book, We, Ourselves, and Us: Creating a More Just and Prosperous America, is now available on Amazon in paperback (click here) and Kindle (click here) versions.

If you read any of my books and like them  I would greatly appreciate it if you will take the time to post a review on Amazon, Goodreads, or whatever book site you enjoy. Thank you in advance.

Science & Philosophy: The Door to the Chinese Century


Author Gary Moreau, aka Avam Hale in fiction

While it may not be apparent at the level of one-to-one interaction, the Chinese are generally more philosophical in their worldview while Americans and Europeans are more inclined to a scientific interpretation of reality. That is not to say, of course, that the Chinese are in any way compromised in science or technology. They aren’t. Their philosophical bent, in fact, will liberate them to become, I believe, among the best scientists on the planet in the years ahead.

The difference flows from the distinct logic on which each worldview is built. I cover this in depth in Understanding China: There is Reason for the Difference and have referenced the distinction, perhaps to excess, in prior blog posts. I won’t tempt your patience, therefore, again here.

In many ways, philosophy and science are the yin and yang of thought. Science is an empirical methodology for distilling abstract observation down to specific, discreet bits of knowledge, presumed to be nuggets of truth. Philosophy, on the other hand, is the process of amalgamating discreet observations and measurements into broad abstractions of truth that are both all-inclusive and infallible.

Technology, of course, has greatly enhanced the speed and diversity of our ability to measure and record data, and search for patterns therein. This has, in turn, lead to an acceleration in scientific discovery that is rapidly obscuring all other perspectives; most notably the religious and the intuitive.

Philosophy, on the other hand, is constrained by language, on which it is reliant both for the fuel of thought and the ability to debate and share the results. Language, being a human convention created to facilitate the efficiency and effectiveness of communication, is entirely arbitrary and not up to the task of the larger philosophical questions that continue to face humankind. As a result, philosophy seems to be stuck in a time warp. Philosophers are debating the same questions their Greek counterparts did millennia ago, with some apparent progress, but little in the way of resolution.

Philosophy and science, however, much like yin and yang, cannot exist, at least not productively, in isolation. Each is reliant on the other. Because they approach abstraction and reality from the opposite directions, each provides balance to the other. Without one or the other, imbalance results, and thought, or, more specifically, the veracity of thought, suffers.

Many in science believe that philosophy is an antiquated and anachronistic mode of analysis that should be left by the roadside of progress. Just the opposite, however, is true. Science without philosophy is disaster in the making.

We know that many scientific discoveries ultimately prove to be wrong. Einstein was wrong about the static universe. Doctors were wrong for decades about the cause of peptic ulcers. And scientists, who initially thought that matter was made up of atoms, later discovered leptons and quarks, and now believe that 85% of the universe may be made up of dark matter, although it has never actually been seen or measured by anyone.

Marcis Angell, former editor of the New England Journal of Medicine, has this to say: “It is simply no longer possible to believe much of the clinical research that is published.” Stanford researcher, John Ioannidis agrees. He has published a paper entitled, “Why Most Published Research is False,” noting that most research is better at cataloguing the prevailing bias than discovering new scientific truths. Pioneering medical clinician and author, Chris Kresser, sums it up like this: “In fact, it’s not an exaggeration to say that the history of science has been the history of most people being wrong about most things most of the time.”

The proof is in the pudding. The scientific method is based on replicability. Cause and effect, science holds, is fixed by the laws of nature. In one recent study, however, researchers attempted to replicate the results of 100 published psychological studies and failed to do so in 65 percent of the cases. Researchers from Bayer, likewise, attempted to replicate the research behind sixty-seven blockbuster drugs currently in use and failed in 75% of their attempts.

Philosophy is the natural counter-balance to empirical discovery. By inductively speculating the precise back to the abstract, philosophy will naturally unearth gaps in deductive conclusion that may result from faulty reasoning, or, more commonly, incomplete understanding of causation.

To jettison philosophy in the interest of science, therefore, is to throw away the best opportunity we have to validate and direct empirical analysis and conclusion. And since empirical reality is the reality we live in, it is to open the door to nothing less than our potential destruction.

That the US is a nation divided is beyond dispute. Everyone can see that we are hurtling down a path of eventual implosion that threatens to unravel all of the progress we have made to date as a society and a nation. Only the truth can save us, but truth, we must accept, is not the exclusive dominion of the empiricist.

Science without philosophy is the path to “knowledgeable ignorance.” It is an ignorance built upon a foundation of false certainty that doesn’t just inform our opinion, but defines it. Thought solidifies and hardens, losing its ability to adapt and, as a result, thought and leadership lose the predictive and probative power of wisdom and understanding. We are literally blinded by hollow empiricism.

It is the philosophical void created by imbalanced empiricism, articulated through public opinion polls and statistical analysis, and spread through the mechanics of biased reporting and self-reinforcing news feeds, that is at the heart of our current political paralysis and acute personal divisions.

Why are women, after decades of abuse at the hands of male predators, now coming forward? Why are ethnic and racial minorities finally, after generations of discrimination and abuse, concluding that now is the time it must end? Why are university students only now demanding safe spaces and trigger warnings and seeking to silence speech that is offensive?

The answer, in part, I believe, comes down to the current imbalance between our emphasis on empirical study and measurement and our lack of insistence that such empiricism be validated through the logic of abstraction. Our empirical knowledge has finally overwhelmed our willingness to make abstract excuses and rationalizations. And in the case of misogyny, racism, and intellectual bullying, that is indeed a good thing. We’ve finally cut through the clutter that has historically insulated unacceptable behavior.


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In marginalizing philosophy and abstraction, however, we risk marginalizing productive debate in other important areas of worldview. We risk becoming so certain in our beliefs that we lose all sense of balance and proportion. We lose the ability to meet others half way. We lose the opportunity to exercise diplomacy and to work with other cultures and people with different life experiences in a collaborative and productive way.

The Chinese are not so constrained because they are not just extending their natural empirical perspective in the way that we in Westerners are. They are introducing science and empiricism on top of philosophy, not as an extension of itself. They have, as a result, a balance between science and philosophy that we have lost to empiricism.

The Chinese, despite a population that dwarfs our own, currently enjoy far greater social cohesion and political stability than either the US or the EU. And they have it not because of the autocratic socialist state that the Western media believes is behind all things Chinese, but for the simple reason that Chinese culture and politics retains a balance between empirical progress (e.g., China now leads the world in renewable energy investment.) and philosophical abstraction (e.g. President Xi Jinping’s Chinese Dream).

It is our Western empiricism, at the expense of traditional philosophical thought, by contrast, that is opening the door to the Chinese Century. By returning to their Confucian roots while embracing the empiricism of science, the Chinese will be in the best position to apply the knowledge they unveil through scientific discovery. The West, on the other hand, is likely to fritter away its sizeable early lead in acquisition of empirical knowledge to the certainty of empiricism without abstraction. Or, more precisely, certainty without the guiding hand of doubt.

We will be certain, but will we progress?

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