Friday, 7 September 2012

Against Wang Dan (王丹)

Wang Dan (王丹) has a short editorial in the Taipei Times today, claiming, quite uncontroversially I should think, that the recent protests in Taipei and Hong Kong indicate an underlying opposition to the CCP.

However, I don't like it.

What's primarily wrong with it is that his sketch is made grotesquely crude by his reliance upon "university words": abstractions devoid of context and diluted by metaphor...
The social development model represented by the CCP can be called “the Chinese model”: it focuses on economic development and suppresses everything else, expanding economic strength by sacrificing democracy and freedom. The social development model for civil society in Hong Kong and Taiwan, on the other hand, makes public dignity and freedom, social justice and tolerance the goal of economic development. The definition of “happiness” is very different in these two models.
To begin with, his insistence that "the Chinese model" expands "economic strength" by "sacrificing freedom" is deeply insidious - though perhaps unintentionally so. Whilst the claim may make a sort of intuitive sense to a naive reader who may "validate" it to himself by recalling stories of Chinese people being kicked out of their homes and farms to make way for new construction, it nonetheless begs the question: economic strength for whom?

Does not the fact that the "whom" is left unstated imply that it need not be stated - that it ought to be obvious? Does he not mean "China", that vague collective entity as assessed by economists with comparative measures of GDP growth and the like?

If so, then this first part of Wang's paragraph is grotesque on two counts: first, because it echoes the premise of nationalist collectivism on which the CCP itself relies, and second because it obscures the fact that it is the politically well-connected and favoured who gain "economic strength" at the expense of other people's (usually poor people's) claims to property.

It would surely make more sense - i.e. be more accurate - to describe the economic policies of the CCP as vectors (i.e. possessing both direction and magnitude) for the transference of power rather than describe them with the sloppy, teletubby phrase "social development".

In the second part of the paragraph quoted above, Wang remarks on how the "social development model" for Hong Kong and Taiwan "...makes public dignity and freedom, social justice and tolerance the goal of economic development" without any sense that these things cannot be integrated cumulatively. Does not stipulation to "public dignity" demand proscriptions on tolerance? Does not the pursuit of "social justice" demand the violation of freedom? That these contradictions are not made explicit is because the method by which the math is to be performed - coercion - remains implicit. You cannot claim that you are in favour of freedom and tolerance if you are prepared to force other people to help you in your quest for "public dignity" and "social justice".

There seems to be an unspoken assumption among commentators in the "green" media that the young people in Taiwan who protest against - in essence - what Wang calls the "social development model of China" are to be encouraged carte blanche, perhaps due to a growing sense of disaffection with the DPP, especially after this year's election result. I think is a bad mistake, but one which does not surprise me given the general ideological (i.e. the logic of ideas) cluelessness among the pan-greens and their sympathisers.

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