Tag Archives: Chinese Dream

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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Back to School: Marxism and the Chinese Dream

Shortly after coming to power in October, 2012, the government of President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang issued what came to be known as ‘the eight rules’, the beginning of a long and ardent campaign to alter government behavior.

The rules specifically addressed the elimination of government privilege and urged a dramatic reduction in the pomp and circumstance that accompanied official behavior at the time.   (One of the rules states: ”All government meetings shall be short, clear in focus, and all empty and courteous comments should be eliminated.” Another specifically forbids the organization of Chinese students studying abroad to ‘welcome’ visiting Chinese officials at the airport.)

And the application of the eight rules has been expanded and more broadly interpreted since. Prior to this past Spring Festival, a time of traditionally generous gift-giving within families, from companies to their employees and customers, and from subordinates to their superiors, the government specifically forbade the use of public funds for the purchase of printed materials to be used as gifts, a move that had a devastating impact on the calendar industry, once a beneficiary of the government’s annual largesse.

The Western media has, for the most part, interpreted all of this to be part of a broader program to curb corruption and graft, a perspective reinforced by the vigorous and well-documented campaign the administration has conducted to expose and punish corrupt officials at every level of government. It is a campaign unprecedented in its scope and scale, bringing down officials considered off-limits in previous campaigns.

Just recently, in fact, the Communist Party of China officially announced that it was investigating Zhou Yongkang, the former security tsar and member of the nine-member Politburo, the pinnacle of power in China. He is, in fact, the first and only member of the Politburo ever to be investigated for “serious violations of discipline,” the common euphemism for taking bribes.

I believe, however, that the Western media is missing the real story here. While Westerners tend to think of corruption in the context of Judeo-Christian morality, the real storyline here is Xi Jinping’s desire to re-invigorate the Party’s commitment to Marxist ideology.

President Xi is not in any way attempting to remake China in a Western image. He has, in fact, specifically warned his Party faithful not to ape Western morality and behavior. The implication, in fact, is that Western ideology and morality, with its emphasis on material and financial achievement, is the root cause of government corruption and the polarization of wealth and income that plagues most capitalist democracies.

As the head of the Communist Party of China, President Xi, of course, is a Marxist. As with most ideologies, however, there are Marxists and there are Marxists. There are, to put it another way, Marxists who buy into the mechanics of Marxist politics (i.e. technocrats). And there are idealists who truly believe in the utopian community Marxist ideology seeks to achieve. President Xi, I believe, falls decidedly into this latter camp.

It is true, as some analysts have correctly maintained, that President Xi and Premier Li took office at a time of growing concern within the Party about it’s grip on power. Mao Zedong was a revolutionary. But he was a populist revolutionary. He was, even at the height of his power, a man of the people and continues to be revered as such today, even among those who suffered during the Cultural Revolution. (President Xi himself was ‘sent down’ to learn from the rural peasants who farmed the soil and his own father was jailed for his beliefs and advocacy.)

As China has prospered economically, however, many members of the Communist Party have prospered far more than the average Chinese citizen whose hard work and sacrifice were the engine that raised 300 million people out of poverty in a single generation. Some senior government officials and their families became, in fact, obscenely wealthy and enjoy a life of luxury and privilege that the average Chinese cannot comprehend, much less abide.

President Xi, simply put, understood that the Party was losing touch with the citizenry from which it rose. And, in the end, he understood all too well that this would ultimately lead to a loss of legitimacy and jeopardize the very existence of the Party and its singular grip on power in China.

I believe, however, that President Xi is motivated by more than mere self-preservation.

On July 21 of this year a statement from the Organization Department of the Communist Party of China (ODCPC) announced a sweeping plan to re-educate government officials in basic Marxist principles, noting a loss of faith and a moral decline among their ranks.  This is not, however, a sign that the CPC has any desire to adopt a Western model of morality and virtue. In its announcement the ODCPC specifically and meaningfully noted, “Chinese officials should safeguard the spiritual independence of the nation and avoid becoming an echo of western moral values.”

The official government-run Chinese news agency, Xinhua, later noted that authorities would “work to improve officials’ morals, calling on them to be noble, pure and virtuous persons who have relinquished vulgar tastes.”

The government officials are not alone. Chinese journalists, who must be certified to have access to government spokespeople and official government announcements are likewise undergoing remedial education in Marxist ideology and the Marxist view that journalism be both objective and supportive of Party ideology.

Westerners will naturally interpret this as a move to silence dissent. And that is, by definition, true to a degree. Journalism, however, is no more immune to corruption than government service and several leading Chinese journalists have recently been investigated for taking bribes.

To paraphrase Freud, all of life is personal. And journalists are no exception. We all have an agenda, whether it is consciously articulated or not. True objectivity, even when it comes to journalism, is a journey, not a destination.

And social change, more than anything else, is a political enabler. Once the genie is out of the bottle anyone can use the cover of change to pursue their own political and social agenda, no matter what they may be.

And at few points in history will a single country of such size and significance go through more change than China as it pivots away from the export manufacturing model that allowed it to become the second largest economy in the world to the consumption-based economy that will be necessary to both improve the quality of life for all Chinese and relieve the pressure that being the factory to the world has put on the environment.

The government knows, in other words, that the gut-wrenching changes necessary to complete such a grand economic pivot will open the door to competing political agendas that might have some intrinsic merit, but might, nonetheless, de-rail the whole process and plunge the country into social and political chaos. Which is which will depend on your perspective. But neither truth makes the other any less true.

President Xi frequently refers to the Chinese Dream. It is the cornerstone of his administration. And it is, I believe, a dream defined by proud perseverance, national and ethnic pride, and shared community.

It is not a Western dream. It is a Marxist dream. And that, I believe, is, on balance, very good news for the West.

But that is another topic for another time. Stay tuned.

The Chinese Dream often referenced by President Xi is, I believe, a Marxist dream of proud perseverance and utopian community.
The Chinese Dream often referenced by President Xi is, I believe, a Marxist dream of proud perseverance and utopian community.

Title  photo credit:  chrisdorney@Shutterstock.com

Copyright © 2014 Glassmaker in China

Notice:  The views expressed in this post are strictly those of the writer acting in a personal capacity.  They are not in any way endorsed or sanctioned by his employer or any other individual with which he may be personally or professionally affiliated.