Tag Archives: political correctness

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.


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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?

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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.

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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.

Words Matter?

One of the recurring themes of this year’s US presidential campaign is that ‘words matter.’ To the extent, in fact, that every word uttered by one candidate is sure to lead to a counter barrage of insults, indignant protestations, and scorn from the other side.

I’m a writer. In one sense, therefore, I do believe that words really do matter. With a caveat. They matter little if they are not part of an overall attempt to communicate. And it has become increasingly clear that neither of the current major party candidates, nor their armies of surrogates and professional politicians, is attempting to communicate anything of substance.

In the inductive world of Chinese culture, words matter far less. They are subordinate to behavior and always interpreted in context, largely calibrated through the lens of Confucian obligation. When I first arrived in China I was shocked, and sometimes embarrassed, by how people spoke to each other in conflict, particularly if they were strangers or had only a professional relationship. Voices are often raised; tongues can be biting; insults and insinuations are sometimes thrown with abandon.

But it was nothing compared to the first presidential and the vice presidential debates. At least in China I couldn’t speak the language very fluently so was spared the worst of it.

Over time, however, I learned to put it all in context and I became a lot more relaxed as a result. A little yelling and a few insulting insinuations no longer rattled me. And, in fact, I learned to use that fact in negotiation. The fact that I, as a foreigner, wasn’t rattled by the raised voices and insinuations, in turn, rattled the people I was negotiating with.

The truth is, the Chinese have it right. Words are not a product of nature, like rain, or sunshine, or the elements of the Atomic Table. They are a manmade creation developed for the sole purpose of facilitating efficient communication. Of and by themselves they are both meaningless and worthless; nothing more than an advanced form of stick figures scratched in the dirt.

What if Americans adopted the Chinese attitude that words are subordinate to context? Political campaigns, for starters, would cost a lot less than they do now. (There wouldn’t be any sense in running attack ads.) The big donors would have a lot less influence on the American political process and American life. And power would inevitably revert back to the citizens, where it belongs.

Political correctness would largely evaporate. People would be a lot less offended by the words we use and people would spend a lot less time fretting over what somebody meant. And, of course, the people who wanted to use words to hurt or bully would lose a powerful weapon.

In the end, as a result, I think people would be a lot more relaxed overall. There would be less stress and anger in the air than there obviously is now. And that by itself would be good for the country and our collective blood pressure.

Would putting less stock in words be a recipe for racism, sexism, the plethora of modern phobias, and the like? You mean, worse than today? It’s obvious that despite all of the angst about words we have an over-abundance of all of these things already.

If the current election has starkly exposed anything it is that we are a nation divided by our words. Nobody cares about context. The national stage has become the most hateful of all schoolyards.

But wait? Wouldn’t the politicians just tell us what they think we want to hear to get elected? Again, we have that now. When context disappears from the national dialogue there is no dialogue. There is only mudslinging.

Because when words mean everything context means nothing. And, as a result, you have literal truths that don’t really tell the complete story. You end up with narrow truths, which, when extrapolated, are false.

Linguistic researchers have long suggested that words account for only a small component of effective communication. Body language, tone, volume, context, and other less tangible factors collectively drive understanding.

Even with all of their consultants, opinion polls, and focus groups, our politicians seem to have largely forgotten that people remember not what you say, but how you make them feel. Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton were both masters of the feel. The former inspired optimism, the latter made everyone he touched feel like they were critical to the cause.

And they did it through context. They never forgot to address the question of why they believed what they did. It’s a more fundamental and less superficial element of communication. The why, simply put, is how we make people feel.

This election will be no different than prior elections. The rhetoric won’t be the deciding factor. The words won’t be the deciding factor. They are, after all, just words. We will elect whoever makes us feel the way we most want to feel.

I think we all need to chill out, as my generation used to say. We will all be a lot more relaxed and civil to each other once we put context back into our dialogue.

A sign next to the Panda pit at the Beijing Zoo. In Chinglish, context matters more than words. It should be the same in politics.
A sign next to the Panda pit at the Beijing Zoo. In Chinglish, context matters more than words. It should be the same in politics.
I get it.
I get it.

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