Monday, December 16, 2019

China's Path to Democracy

In the course of the collapse of the previous dynasty in China, progressives were chanting for Mr. Democracy and Mr. Science. They were led by students.

Here in the West, where we seem hell-bent on electing strong-man nationalistic demagogues in the place of leaders, we are easily horrified by China's new social credit score system. It's not all that hard to discover what is going on. As soon as the Internet escaped academia into the realm of Dot Com, our form of democracy was foredoomed.

I listened (for a clue) to Lester Holt, a mainstream anchor, interview Mark Zuckerberg. In case you don't know, Mark runs a really big advertising outfit. They track our social behaviors, trading on our "social" enthusiasms just like Google trades on our shopping and searching enthusiasms. Behind much of all that lurks a credit scoring system. It would seem that while China strives to develop a more comprehensive scoring system for its citizenry, we are content to allow utter opacity to an overall system controlled algorithmically on behalf of our oligarchs (cute and likable as they try to be).

President Xi is certainly a strong man, but hardly a demagogue. Chinese are raised in terror that they might have our particular brand of democracy, where we electioneer amateurs to lead us. Even when they become professional politicians, or perhaps especially then, our leadership governs by some playbook as though politics were a sport.

I suppose that, as Max Weber did once opine, we can't depart from our Protestant roots where money might stand in for good works and thus for grace. It seems that we've become all about money and not much else.

Now, I do actually believe that China is slouching toward a form of Democracy, and here is how it might look: In place of one person one vote, they will evolve toward a weighted voting system where a person's vote counts proportionately according to that person's social credit score. Furthermore, the voter will be allowed to spread his vote among candidates for a particular office.

For instance, I am zero percent Trump and maybe thirty percent to each of Sanders and Warren right now. That's to encourage them to form a single ticket, maybe. The rest might be doled out according to what happens with electability.

In China, they will all vote at the same instant and information about candidates will be gotten out in ways cut off from the marketplace. No ads. Let's hope they allow even criminals to vote - since no legal system is perfect - diluted by a low social-credit score, of course.

There remains a lot to work out. I don't know what the credit score of an eighteen-year old might be, but I suppose one might start one as soon as one starts a bank account. I'll have to ask an eighteen year old if they even know what a credit score is.

Perhaps in China, one will start life with a social-credit score of zero, and then begin tweaking it in high-school, or perhaps earlier; upon first encounter with the legal system. So, the youth vote might be diluted for a while, even while the college-educated vote might be amplified.

Of course China has a lot of work to do, mostly with regard to creating a solid legal system which is trusted by the people. They need more and better codes for all sorts of things.

We, on the other hand, seem bent on destroying what we have. That often happens in the name of new technologies which enable the atrocities of Uber, Air-B-n' B and their ilk which enable the concentration of wealth among the mega-yacht-riding crowds on the backs of gig-workers competing for pennies on the street left behind by the newly homeless. Just imagine how much local knowledge Walmart has destroyed; the wreckage of small store owners and their living-wage employees.

Hmmm. What if politicians' social-credit score were visible and not just their balance sheets. Clearly, the Donald would be worth about zero, but then he knows we only care about money. I guess Republican means love of money and knowledge about how to gain power. There sure isn't any ideology there, apart from those basics.

And that would be fine if our current economy weren't so hell-bent on destruction of the earth. We need a government! I'm afraid China will get there first. Well, I'm not so afraid. I'm hopeful! I also hope that we won't have utterly destroyed ours by then.

The world is confusing and so people naturally listen to bloviators on the Internet and while they're driving. There seems to be no shortage of people willing to say anything for an audience, and their seeming certainty must be comforting somehow, in an angry sort of way.

We should be suspicious of anyone who wants to be president, shouldn't we. Who could actually want such a job for good and honest reasons?

Ah, remember when old Bill Gates (he's almost exactly my age, but sure looks a lot older now - I guess riches don't get you everything) raved on about how the Internet and tech generally was going to give us a friction-free market? What a hoot now when we spend nearly all our time trying to gauge how much we might be made a sucker by our endless and arduous calculations of value.

We might even be amazed when we discover something of good quality at a good price backed by honest people trying to make a living. So many are forced to sell their souls to take on some corporate ideology. You know, health-insurance providers, cell-phone giants, tech titans, those kinds of corporate people.

Trump is such a patently divisive "leader" with lousy instincts pandering to the basest in each of us. And yet we debate niceties and technicalities of the law and the constitution to provide cover for the obvious moral bankruptcy of the man. That's what we should impeach for. It's not about "administrative incompetence" which our founding fathers explicitly wrote out from impeachment as impeachment was described in our constitution. This is moral failure, plain and simple, administratively incompetent though Trump may be.

Bottom line for me is that absent Christianity (and it really is both absent and vacant in relation to its own erstwhile professions) we need some moral code that we can count on. We need to stop amplifying the voices and deeds of the sociopaths among us. We need to stop projecting our own deficiencies onto others (and wondering why they hate us in return).

Love is the only cosmic force worth comprehending. Our tail-chasing toward human abstraction from the muck of living by means of science and technology is backfiring miserably, no? I'm all for those pursuits, but not when guided by the anti-life force of money. I don't think we either must or should subvert what's working in our economy. Radical behaviors based on partial understanding, and especially based on ideological certainty, are always dangerous.

I like Bernie simply because he is who he is by proven track record. In that sense, he's as transparent as Trump, and likely could have beaten him for the same reasons Trump won. Were it not for the cynical and manipulative and apparently condescending calculus behind Hillary. Were it not for the way the Facebook amplified Putin-backed agitprop. Were it not for the general apathy about voting, especially among the young.

I'd like Bernie better if he were younger and didn't seem so eager to wrench the wheel of state in some new direction over the short-haul (which is all he's got now). I trust that he's been in government to know better than that, which is another reason to trust the man.

Well, that's about enough blathering from here. But mark my word on China's slow progress toward a better democracy than the one we seem hell-bent on selling down the river.

Sunday, December 15, 2019

Hong Kong v. Tiananmen - Taking to the Streets

Of course these two captioned phenomena aren't opposed, except perhaps rhetorically, and then only for the purpose of drawing contrasts. Just for instance, Capo Xi's anti-corruption drive responds to many of the complaints which underlay the students' uprising in 1989. The students and middle-class rising up in Hong Kong seem to carry the same concerns we attributed to the students then occupying Tiananmen.

The analysis now is so much more sophisticated than it was then, which is to say that we've lost the moral clarity that Perry Link, for one, seems able to maintain. So many well-read and intelligent apologists now deride the ignorant protesters in Hong Kong, as though they fight in vain against history itself.

One thing that has definitely changed between now and then is how we get our news. As I write, plain new barriers are being erected in the way of my getting more elite reads beyond the working-class aggregations offered by all the major tech companies. It soon will seem as though only the New York Times, the Washington Post, and the Wall Street Journal will have the clout to charge the public what they are worth.

I'm not complaining about the cost of the news. I'm pretty sure that back when we did subscribe to magazines and the local paper we spent more in proportion than what we're being asked to dish out now. Hell, I can pay Apple $10 a month to get a whole pepper-pot of magazines, leaving only those like the three I advert to above to compete for my remaining dollars. Given that to buy an apple (I mean the kind you eat!) is no longer a non-decision for me, one problem is that it feels like I'm spending more than what used to feel like spending money. That was before the VCR and credit cards changed our spending habits for good (or ill!).

My complaint is that even as local news has been undermined (our Buffalo News seems to get most of its literate content now by contract with the New York Times) the analysis of news of global interest is becoming so much more sophisticated. Local becomes outlet for nasty screeds sometimes, while the cosmopolitan position just feels detached and for some diminutive audience of the socially privileged.

Somewhere within all the tech aggregators for our daily reads, there may be a divide between the horrific (and opaque) curation by Facebook "likes," and whatever it is that determines the spread of each day's New York Times. In between, many of us are growing weary of being gamed by our internet habits to present us with those articles we are most likely to like.

So, one thing which distinguishes me from my betters in knowledge regarding China is that they all seem to accept that something like our current world order will persist into the indeterminate future. The many well-informed apologists for China point out how thoroughly the West is being out-played. We are hamstrung by our troglodyte beliefs in an over-simplistic definition for capitalism, and our fantasy presumptions about the moral and historical superiority of the American form of democracy.

The trouble with the American form of democracy is that it gave us Donald Trump, et al., which is surely also relata-ble to the ways our news is curated. William Taylor channeling the voice of Walter Cronkite just reminds us how is is that Donald Trump's avatar from the Apprentice took over reality about who belongs in the Oval office.

Once again, there is a divide between the cosmopolitans and the country rubes, since those who matured in the orbit of New York and Gary Trudeau have always known who Donald Trump was: the grim confidence man dreamed up by the likes of Mark Twain and Herman Melville. At least I have moral clarity about that, of the sort I don't have about the demonstrations and now seeming rioting in Hong Kong.

Of course, the Big Difference is that back in 1989, I and perhaps all of us were certain that the world was about to change, and it did! That was exciting! We weren't so much thinking about what was wrong with our future as about what was wrong with our present. Starting in China, or so it seemed to me, all sorts of walls were coming down and it felt like the world was opening up.

Now, it feels like the whole world is jaded, and there is a crushing certainty that nothing will ever change up against our seeming certainty that suddenly everything will. Climate change and rising oceans, medicine-resistant super bugs, species extinction, cyber-wars, strong-man nationalistic politics and those railing against the youth of Hong Kong all seem to be on the side of the beneficiaries of our historically localized - in time, not in space - technological global regime. Haven't those billionaires figured out that they can't take their mega-yachts with them?

So, what am I waiting for? I guess it seems to me that Hong Kong is not enough to fight for. I would fight for the world and Hong Kong just feels to me like a lost cause in the same way it does to all those China apologists who see wisdom in the ways that China is managing her ascendance. I mean I see their point, I just don't see any sustainable futures there. I'm looking for something akin to the American revolution for the Twenty First Century. And it has to happen soon!

I confess that I do take some comfort in the evident fact that billionaires are no different than the rest of us. They want toys and amusements as we all do to pass what time we have here on earth (as though there were anywhere else!) and to keep their enthusiasms focused against terminal  depression in this post-holy world.

The billionaires choose yachts and multiple mansions where the only difference between the Trumpsters and the never-Trumpsters is motorized versus non-motorized sport utility vehicles. This seems to have some relation to body-image which must be related to identification with earth and authenticity. Authenticity after all is the only thing that's left of Christian soul, post-Christianity. I mean the Christians have all apparently made their peace with soul-less recreation-vehicle capitalism.

I'm guessing that Tattoos - the branding of the self - and e-bikes might bring us all together in just the way that Teslas seem to. Ha! But really. But.

Well, OK, so I just bought an e-bike, because I can ride comfortably up steep hills and for a long time while still getting great exercise. I feel guilty about it. I sure couldn't afford it, even though I got it at a steep discount from lightly used rental stock. Of all the stupid things, I rationalized it based on the current cost of motor and battery, getting me the bike for not much more than that. Mostly I hate the political stamp it gives me. Where?

Meanwhile, the Democrats mounted a masterful inquiry into Donald Trump, and it would seem the Republicans just simply don't care. This is highly disturbing. That, finally, is why I MUST be on the side of the youth in Hong Kong, no matter what the hidden, overly analytical reasons may be for what actually motivates them. I have been stripped of my cynicism. Things have gotten serious.

We must take to the streets! The time is short. Now.