Tag Archives: income distribution

What Might Orwell Say About Trump’s Trip to China

Author Gary Moreau, aka Avam Hale in fiction

By sheer coincidence, while President Trump and First Lady Melania were being feted by Xi Jinping and Peng Liyuan at the Forbidden City, I was re-reading George Orwell’s dystopian classic, 1984. It was written, of course, in 1949, the very year in which Mao Zedong brought the People’s Republic of China into existence.

Orwell’s book was and is considered a fantastic fiction of foresight so eerily prescient of current events that it feels close to prophetic. And, in fact, every time I looked up from my reading I felt and saw 1984 all around me.

In the end I don’t believe that Orwell was looking forward in time so much as he was looking back. There are many powerful themes in the book, from the permanence of a three-tiered society of the powerful, the want-to-be-powerful, and the 85% of every population that struggles in drudgery to serve the first two segments, to the need for continuous war to consume the inevitable over-production inherent to the post-industrial era.

The primary theme of the book, however, is the power and potential treachery of language and its inherent propensity to be deceptively stripped of meaning in the interest of mass oppression. It was a power that both Stalin and Hitler, who had dominated the news during much of Orwell’s own life, understood and cleverly manipulated to extreme and horrific effect.

Language, of course, is a human convention. It is not natural to the world like sunshine or the animals of the Savannah. We made it up to help us communicate. In so doing, however, we created the world’s most powerful oppressive weapon, a tool that can be turned on us as creator and master. Words have meaning but are not, by themselves, inherently truthful.

The Chinese understand this quite instinctively. In part this mirrors the inductive worldview in which personal obligation trumps everything, including language, and because they converse in a language that is, by its very nature, conceptual and pictographic.

Orwell’s warning, however, is of paramount application to Americans today, both because of our deductive world view which has given us political correctness, but also because the paramount tenets of our culture are not tangibles like filial piety, but intangible concepts, like honor, freedom, and liberty, that can only be understood proximately through words.

Never before, in fact, although I can’t believe Orwell truly foresaw this given that he penned this book forty years before the Internet, has Orwell’s warning been so relevant and so urgent. American culture, politics, and the economy turn on the importance of words more than ever before. Face to face communication among family and friends has declined greatly, our social institutions have steadily lost membership, our politicians communicate in 140 character (now 280 character) Tweets, and our economy is controlled by digital platforms driven by the two-dimensional language of algorithms and analytics.

The backbone of Orwell’s dystopia is the Thought Police, the role of which is “not only complete obedience to the will of the State, but complete uniformity of opinion on all subjects…” Variations of the Thought Police have been around since the beginning of social organization. The difference in Orwell’s 1984 was the existence of the “telescreen,” a variation of television that supported 24/7 bidirectional communication controlled by the government.

Today, of course, we have the Internet. On the surface it is not as organized as Orwell’s Thought Police but it is equally powerful. It draws its strength from the collective consciousness of shamers, critics, and newsfeeds and content farms intent to achieve eyeballs and to disseminate their often virulent propaganda. It harnesses the hysteria of the crowd and the spite of the anonymous.

It is ironic that most Americans would equate Orwell’s dystopia more with China than with America itself. Western media coverage of China is inevitably pre-occupied with the lack of American style elections and the alleged suppression of political dissent, despite the reality that American political correctness suppresses more dissent than the Chinese censors could ever hope to.

Available in paperback and electronic formats at Amazon, B&N, and other fine bookstores. click here

United States Senators Marco Rubio and Chris Smith, both Republicans, and the Chair and Co-chair, respectively, of the Congressional Executive Commission on China, issued a letter prior to Trump’s trip, which CNN entitled, US should hold China accountable on human rights. In it they complain that China “continues to strengthen the world’s most sophisticated system of internet control and press censorship and forges ahead with what it calls ‘internet sovereignty.'” (They seem particularly concerned about China’s decision to block the WhatsApp platform in anticipation of the Communist Party Congress in October.)

This criticism was leveled, of course, in the middle of a US news barrage concerning the mass murder of American citizens by other citizens armed with military assault weapons, the long-tolerated predatory and misogynist behavior of powerful US men, the opioid epidemic, widespread civil rights abuses, travel bans, the suppression of immigration, and a growing income and wealth divide that is both categorically immoral and threatens economic and social stability.

But Orwell, in his prescience, would not have been at all surprised that this was all happening in America were he still alive. One of the lingual weapons of the oppressors in Orwell’s dystopia is blackwhite, a powerful piece of jargon with two contradictory meanings. “Applied to an opponent, it means the habit of impudently claiming that black is white, in contradiction of the plain facts…But it means also the ability to believe that black is white, and more, to know that black is white, and to forget that one has ever believed the contrary.”

The blackwhite of America’s attitude toward China, of course, is that China is the oppressor and America is the guardian of liberty, justice, and the equality of all men and women. And, of course, the reality is the reverse. While the Chinese government is indeed sensitive to the negative collective impact of social disruption in a large, diverse, and heavily populated country, the Chinese have far greater freedom than Americans are allowed by the American Thought Police who control, through political groupthink, the dissemination of knowledge and truth.

As Orwell so darkly prophesized, the control of knowledge does not require censorship in an era where all thought and expression is transparent to all. Crimestop, another Orwellian addition to the oppressors’ lexicon, is simple enough to teach to children and can be used by the collective mob not to eradicate distasteful thought, but to preclude it from ever occurring in the first place. “It means the faculty of stopping short, as though by instinct, at the threshold of any dangerous thought. It includes the power of not grasping analogies, or failing to perceive logical errors, of misunderstanding the simplest arguments if they are inimical to Ingsoc [the ruling doctrine of the Orwellian state], and of being bored or repelled by any train of thought which is capable of leading in a heretical direction.”

We have gone so far to promote crimestop in America, in fact, that we have created safe spaces on our campuses of higher learning so that students don’t run any risk of being forced to hear something that somehow got by the censors. Lenin himself could not have imagined such a wonderful and empowering accommodation of his ideology.

And while trigger warnings may not carry the direct impact of censorship, they can be more broadly deployed since they do not require any degree of government authority. They represent, in fact, the Thought Police writ democratic, the American mainstream stomping about in Orwell’s symbolic iron-shod boots.

And what is Orwell’s prediction for our future?

“It had long been realized that the only secure basis for oligarchy is collectivism. Wealth and privilege are most easily defended when they are possessed jointly. The so-called “abolition of private property” which took place in the middle years of the century meant, in effect, the concentration of property in far fewer hands than before; but with this difference, that the new owners were a group instead of a mass of individuals.”

But is Orwell describing the future of China or the United States? The Communist Party of China or the American political, economic, and Hollywood elite?

header photo credit: iStock.com/ollo

You may contact the author at gary@gmoreau.com
Visit my personal blog at www.gmoreau.com

Follow on Twitter @gmoreaubooks

Here’s what legendary Kirkus Reviews has to say about the author’s new book: “More than a guidebook for managers, this is a manifesto for an intellectually deeper – and happier – world of business.” Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
click here

The latest in the Understanding Series is now available.
click here

The Food Chain: The Path Out of Poverty or the Road to Permanent Inequity?

Reuters recently ran a story entitled, China reaffirms war on poverty after suspected rural suicides. In it Reuters quoted President Xi Jinping, speaking at a Communist Party conference on the 13th 5-Year Plan. He said, “The most arduous task for achieving a well-off society in an all-around way lies in the rural areas, especially the impoverished ones.

At the time I was vacationing with my daughters on Mackinac Island, a quaint and pristine throwback in time where cars are not allowed and the bed & breakfast is taken to a new level. Unless you must have access to nightclubs while on holiday I highly recommend it. It is beautiful, quiet, and literally sits with its feet in the water at the juncture of Lake Huron and Lake Michigan at the northern most point of Michigan’s lower peninsula.

While reading the Reuters article several observations formulated into thoughts simultaneously. One, in particular, related to a statistic I heard on the radio while driving here. It was that the average American male has gained 30 pounds (13.6 kg) in weight over the last X years and now is a touch under 200 pounds (90.7 kg) – the average! In my youth that was huge. (The average American female has gained a comparable amount of weight but I honestly don’t recall the number.)

And while I don’t have any statistics on the topic, and I am sure to be viewed by some as politically incorrect, I’ll say it anyway. I live in and admire China. I’m politically incorrect to many to begin with.

My observation is that in America the lower your income, the higher the chance of your suffering from obesity. There are many rich Americans who are grossly overweight, of course. I don’t mean to suggest a direct correlation. It is an observation nonetheless.

Which brings me to a second observation. The Chinese do not wear deodorant and it is not uncommon, but not universal, that the Chinese will skip the everyday shower or bath that Americans consider a must. These two realities are often the subject of debate among ex-pats in China over whether the Chinese are subject to the same realities of body odor as Westerners are. (The Chinese are happy to tell you they aren’t.)

My own observation is that they are subject to the same realities, but don’t suffer them. They are inclined to far less body odor than Westerners. But it has nothing to do with genetics or ethnicity. It has everything to do with what they eat.

It’s difficult to find ‘real’ food in an American grocery store today. Forget the labels. They are largely irrelevant. While nearly all of the packaging claims to be less this or less that, the reality is that very little of what Americans eat today is natural, or unmodified, or even real.

I can speak from first hand experience. When I am in China I do shower every day. (The Chinese tend to shower before they go to bed instead of when they awake, which is a habit I have adopted. It really does make more sense and makes the work morning far less frantic.) But I don’t use deodorant. And I never feel, nor has my wife or colleagues ever told me, that I stink. And I honestly don’t believe I do.

When I travel to America, however, I always pack deodorant. Not because of any difference in sensitivities in the people around me, but because after a few days of eating an American diet I do stink. I feel stinky. And I smell stinky. And when I return to China the feeling and the smell go away after a few days and I put the deodorant away until my next trip.

How food is prepared, I believe, and the types of foods marketers with huge advertising budgets make available to us, is behind the growing obesity problem in America. Yes, better health care and nutrition have played a role in the growth in our average height and weight. They, by themselves, however, do not explain the obvious.

It’s a ticking time bomb for the U.S. health care system, for sure. The weight gain comes at a price. Diabetes and heart disease have both been statistically correlated with excess pounds.

There is, however, a far more serious consequence that I have never seen discussed. America, as has been well documented, is becoming more and more polarized in terms of wealth and income. It is in the top 3 when it comes to the gap between rich and poor in the developed world.

And I’m now convinced that our food supply has something to do with it. Weight discrimination is real. The people at the top of the income pyramid are handsome and pretty and seldom overweight. I don’t believe there is any debate on that.

And that, I believe, is because they have access to the low supply of truly natural foods and farm to table restaurants that are all the rage in wealthy urban and suburban areas in America. The poor have less access to these things both because of where they live and because they don’t have the money. Education may also play a role but I don’t want to go there and don’t need to in order to make the argument.

The simple fact is that the lower the price of food the greater the chance that it is heavily processed and made with artificial ingredients and flavorings. That’s why the manufacturers and processors do it. It allows them to sell value and still make a profit. And it seems irrefutably logical that the lower their income the more sensitive consumers will be to price.

In effect, America is both creating an economic feudal system and literally killing its poor prematurely through it’s commercial food chain. And making the purveyors of scented soaps and deodorants wealthy in the process.

So, yes, there is still plenty of poverty in China, particularly in the rural areas. And I hope President Xi Jinping is good to his word about doing something about it. I believe he is sincere based on his past behavior.

I dearly hope, however, that in the process of alleviating poverty, China takes a different path to a more ‘developed’ food supply and does not fill the stomachs of its people with processed and artificially-whatevered, processed food.

The sales of deodorant in China will be the telling metric. My insincere apologies to the companies that purvey such products. But I dearly hope that China remains a poor investment opportunity for them. There is no reason why people can’t enjoy a comfortable and long life together. They aren’t mutually exclusive.

Please note: As I have noted before, I make no pretense of being an investigative journalist. I am a blogger. While I make every reasonable attempt to be accurate, my stock in trade is observation. And I am the first to recognize that no generalization is universal. There are many overweight people who are so simply as a result of biological and/or genetic factors. It matters little what they eat. But the exceptions, and there may be many, don’t invalidate the observation. A national weight gain of 30 pounds is inarguably moving the needle in a material way that can’t be explained by natural causes alone.

The weight of the average American male has increased by 30 pounds in the last X years and is now just shy of 200 pounds.
The weight of the average American male has increased by 30 pounds in the last X years and is now just shy of 200 pounds.

View the author’s literary work written under the pen name of Avam Hale. Both books are available at Amazon and most major online retailers in both electronic and print formats.

Copyright © 2015 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.