Thursday, 19 August 2010

Toward A Neo-Confucian Strategy Of Neutralization

J.Michael Cole wrote up an op-ed which he calls a "call to action" which was also published in full in the Taipei Times on Monday. In this piece, Cole took aim at "opinion writers" whose pieces appear in newspapers such as the Taipei Times. I include myself within this group since I have had, I think, sixteen or seventeen letters published there over the last eighteen months (and many more unpublished) and so I want to answer the challenge on my own terms.

We are living through a period of history in which events with decisive implications for the future are on the cusp of unfolding, or in some cases are already being played out. However unlikely the actions of any one individual are likely to affect the outcomes, all of us face the simple choice of evasion or confrontation. There is no getting out of this, for even ignorance of what is happening can only be achieved deliberately.

There are also however, questions of analysis and strategy on which we may differ in giving answers. Cole, Turton and the majority of other foreigners in Formosa see events primarily in terms that reflect their social-democratic outlook - so they tune their anxiety much more toward some aspects of what is happening, particularly, for example, the changing electoral fortunes of the political parties and their various candidates, whilst allowing themselves a greater range of "laxitude" (to coin a term) on other aspects - e.g. attacks upon the integrity of the private property principle. Regular readers of my blog (if such persons exist) will know that my perspective is very different from this; the chief value to me is individual freedom - and so I see democracy as an especially insidious part of the problem precisely because of its incidental association with freedom. It being the case that there are such differences of viewpoint, the question must be asked at some point of what degree of cooperation I can have with them. Obviously we all oppose the actions of the government in Beijing, and we can even agree sometimes to oppose the government in Taipei. How we may choose to act on this common ground however is not necessarily obvious.

What I want to do in this piece is to sketch out what I think are the areas in which I will act and in which I would like to see others follow my lead.

Since the obvious threat is the encroachment of Chinese political power into our lives here in Formosa, action is needed either to repel this power, or to neutralize it as far as possible. The political parties at one point offered some chance of repelling Chinese power, but the last six years of democratic government in Taipei appear to have significantly marginalized this possibility; the incompetence, corruption and stupidity of the DPP government sickeningly dovetailed with the treacherous stalling by the KMT on the purchase of military upgrades from a Republican U.S. administration. Of course, the current KMT government has simply furthered this policy of appeasement of Chinese power but without the time-saving grace which historical defenders of Neville Chamberlain can claim. Moreover, the idea of political repellent depended not merely on the actions of a democratic government in Taipei, but also of the commitment and readiness of western (i.e. U.S.) political leadership to stage military intervention in the Strait. Not only have the actions of the Taipei government created further difficulties for any attempt by the U.S. Navy to do so (i.e. in terms of not being militarily prepared to hold off Beijing to allow a sufficient time window for the opportune arrival of U.S. forces), but in addition to this, the U.S. government has already stretched its political capacity for military engagements (not its military capacity for such engagements) elsewhere and has even elected a Democratic President (the Democrats have a terrible record on China and Taiwan). So it seems that any realistic chance of repelling Chinese political power from Formosa is now so marginalized as to be unworthy of any exhausting effort.*

That leaves open the question of whether, or perhaps to what extent, Chinese power over our lives in Formosa can be neutralized. This question has long been on my mind, because I see the threat not merely of the direct exercise of political power here from Beijing, but of the government in Taipei evolving "peacefully" into something approximating well enough the totalitarian impulse in Beijing. The threat of this "peaceful evolution" exists not only with the KMT but with the DPP too because of certain results their political ideologies commit them to. I do not think that Turton, for example, can see this, let alone capture it through either of his two political lenses (his social-democracy focuses far too narrowly on the minutiae of party insects, whilst his position as a "greeny" necessarily directs his view out into dizzy celestial utopianism). Thus a strategy of neutralization makes sense irrespective of whether the totalitarian creep comes openly from Beijing or under the cover of "democratic self-determination" in Taipei.

However, neutralization is necessarily a long term strategy of damage control. It is not, in itself, a solution to the problem. The necessity and importance of achieving an actual solution integral to the value of human freedom will not be and cannot be diminished, but it is something I will restrain myself from here.

Strategic goals of a policy of neutralization would have to encompass, to whatever degree possible, those areas of life in which political power may be most sharply imposed and keenly felt. They include the following:

1) Education and in particular language and popular understanding of history.
2) Cash (i.e. the destructive potency of monetary debasement).
3) Essential areas of economic exchange; utilities and communications.
4) Military and paramilitary force of arms.

Doubtless there are a myriad other areas of life in which Beijing may exert political power (e.g. transport, healthcare etc) but it seems to me that those are the top four of greatest strategic import. The development of suitable tactics to apply in each of these areas to the goal of neutralizing political power may be worked out and implemented by a very small fraction of the population. Some particular goals will include the following:

a) The printing, storing and distribution of important literature in both languages.
b) The transfer of liquid assets into preferably concealable commodities.
c) The purchasing of utilities technologies that allow for independent operation and transfer among individuals.
d) The initiation of physical training and procurement of defensive technologies.

For myself, I have already began acting on this strategy as a natural consequence of who I am; no artificial manipulation of character and disposition is necessary in my case. Whether others follow my lead is not something I can be directly responsible for - the choice is up to you: evasion or confrontation. I might add however, that a strategy of neutralization, whilst it is a strategy of confrontation, is nonetheless somewhat Confucian in that it emphasizes indirect modes of confrontation. I don't see any reason to think that direct confrontation by a strategy of attempting to democratically re-capture the government in Taipei is something that will either (a) slow down the advance of Chinese political power, or (b) maintain any integrity to the value of individual freedom.

So there it is - my brief answer to J.Michael Cole's challenge. My beckoning to you, dear readers, to follow my call and begin to confront the Chinese totalitarian impulse taking root here on Formosa. A comradeship of suffering, endurance and perhaps eventual triumph (to paraphrase Churchill): that will be the nature of any cooperation I have with others in this.

*Nevertheless, a certain degree of alertness must be maintained to be able to capitalize on certain errors made by those wielding power in both Taipei and Beijing. The possible election of a Republican U.S. President in 2012 for example (I am thinking of New Jersey's Governor Christie as the "best choice" even remotely likely to be available) may afford some opportunity to confront Chinese political power (I am not, however, overcome with expectation by this possibility).


  1. To have elicited in response such beautiful clarity of thought and focused precision of expression nearly makes Cole's carping forgivable.*

    Reading from half-a-world away (and belatedly, since I missed the post before now), I'm struck by the widespread pertinence of this dictum particularly:

    "However unlikely the actions of any one individual are likely to affect the outcomes, all of us face the simple choice of evasion or confrontation. There is no getting out of this, for even ignorance of what is happening can only be achieved deliberately."

    It undeniably and unfortunately isn't only in Taiwan that government seems intent on "evolving 'peacefully' into something approximating well enough the totalitarian impulse in Beijing." Maybe a bit of a neo-Confucian strategy of neutralization is a good idea all around.

    *Nothing, on the other hand, could excuse his deployment of such an atrocity as "deresponsibilize". Blech!

  2. Thank you Linda - I appreciate your comments. Always be free.


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