Pornography and International Relations

Just yesterday I heard from my students that America’s real goal, and of course America is a single-minded entity in these cases, in lobbying for the appreciation of the RMB amounts to nothing more than a fear driven attempt to scuttle the Chinese economy.

The justification is that the American Congress has blocked Chinese companies’ attempts to buy controlling shares of some American companies, and thereby prevented Chinese sponsored job creation in America. Therefore, America doesn’t really value job creation. This proves that the stated rationale for RMB appreciation, to improve American exports and create American jobs, must be false posturing to cover America’s true China-sabotaging intentions.

What is startling to me about this line of reasoning is not the conflation of American security concerns, justified or not, with larger global economic policy, but the appeal to a general belief in American nefarious intent. The seat of American bullying is not economic self-interest, but a sense of cultural superiority. This inability to engage substantive debate in favor of fear-generating appeals to an inherently evil other actively inhibits cooperation and progress.

The tradition of blaming the west for Chinese problems is long and venerable. Much of the time these accusations are well justified. Imperialist trade agreements and war concessions from the Opium wars through the Boxer Rebellion and into the era of the KMT were often blatantly exploitative. But this line has become a crutch to cover political failures and justify factional power-grabs.

Mao-era political purges against ‘capitalist roaders’, blaming anti-government protests from Tienanmen in ’89 to recent unrest in Xin Jiang and Tibet on foreign meddling, and the knee-jerk reaction to label all modern social ills the result of American cultural influence are just a few of the extra-curricular uses that conflated western influence has been the scapegoat for.

It reminds me of Chinese official attitudes toward pornography. Pornography is considered an outside impurity forced upon a pure society. It is solely the fault of pornography and the ways it weasels into an innocent society that corrupts otherwise honest people into watching it. It is the pornography that actively corrupts people not something corrupt in people that seeks out and creates pornography.

When this is applied to nationalistic-political debates things get ugly. People get othered. China is the seat of all good things, all bad things come from outside. It echoes the argument that Samuel Huntington’s Clash of Civilizations has come to stand for: different cultures are inherently opposed and can’t co-mingle. Kind of like the ‘they hate our freedom’ line coming from some conservatives that pits all of Islam against democracy.

That attitude fundamentally undermines international cooperation. Appeals to ‘common goals and common problems’ fall flat when we get hung up over common blame. Without critical self-reflection there is no compromise. We can argue over who is responsible for the way the world is today, or we can accept our common responsibility for the way the world will be tomorrow.

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