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Sunday, Dec 30, 2018 - 21:28 SGT
Posted By: Gilbert

Apology And Analysis

"I do worry that we could have another financial crisis."

- Former Fed chair Janet Yellen, barely a year after predicting that there would not be another financial crisis in our lifetime

As 2018 winds to a close, I wish to offer several apologies in the formal sense: "an explanation or defence of a belief or system, especially one that is unpopular".

Much of today's polarization, I feel, has been driven by the possibility of sequestering oneself in a singular mindspace, this largely enabled by technology. Whereas physical realities might have in the past encouraged a degree of tolerance by necessity (a tendency that LKY and company imposed with the HDB racial quota system), it is only too easy nowadays to seek out - and consume - only perspectives that jive with one's own.

While doubtless some of my readers might consider many of my stands incorrect, or even reprehensible, I believe myself to have at least sought out, and weighted, both sides of each argument, and derived the conclusion in a rational manner. This might be more than can be said for certain media outlets.

Bad vs. BAD

I get it. You (I use you here referencing a hypothetical second person, so if it doesn't actually apply, please roll with it) hate him. For the various many transgressions, real and imagined, parroted from all directions. Some of these denunciations, I suppose, are even deserved. The gaucheness, often morphing into outright belligerency. Perhaps the reliance on family members as agents and emissaries. Certainly, if one looks up Presidential behaviour in an etiquette guidebook, he won't be featured overmuch.

Now, one might say, he is bad. This judgment is one that any American citizen - or non-citizen, for that matter - should be free to make. This verdict is actually one that I am prepared to concur with... if it is recognized that previous Presidents of the United States were, in comparison, relatively BAD.

The definitions of bad and BAD here are drawn from Fussell. Simply put, bad is not good - a two-dollar Chinesium screwdriver is bad, compared with more durable tools; it'll probably break after a few months of use. But what did one expect? It was dirt cheap, it performed as one would have expected, based on the (price) label.

BAD, in contrast, is when the same Chinesium screwdriver sells for twenty bucks. The differentiating factor, then, is the pretense, the element of deception, of something being better than it is. Maybe it got a similar handgrip to that of more upmarket products slapped on. Maybe it got more stylish packaging. Or maybe it received an edifying backstory - the kid that assembled it in some Xinjiang sweatshop went on to win a scholarship. Who knows? It could well be true.

By this definition, after nearly two years of his tenure, I have to consider TRUMP as the least BAD of all recent POTUSes.

(Source: qz.com)

Example One: the humaneness of keeping migrant minors in cages. The outrage would be fanned to fever pitch, with the former President's speechwriter pouring oil on the fire by tweeting the miserable sight of two detained girls in a holding cell... only to realise that it had taken place under his guy's watch. The (honest) reaction was then to admit that he would never have posted the picture, had he known. Similar outright fake exaggerations on illegal immigrant treatment abound, the most famous perhaps being the TIME cover story on a "separated" toddler.

The bottom line is: firstly, the family separation policy was ill-conceived (one of the few black marks on the current administration), and rightly terminated after it became public knowledge. However, it is also evident that the cage accomodations - also presented as a symbol of the heartlessness of the current admin - were never publicized to any comparable extent, despite by all accounts being in place throughout the previous administration, and beyond.

Here, I am assuming that if a person has a moral objection to the caging, he would hold the same objection whether it happened today, or five years ago. As such, if the guy in charge for keeping kids in cages is bad, the guy who does the same thing - but never has it emphasized to the populace - is BAD. The former pays the price, in reputation and opprobrium garnered; the latter gets away with the dastardly deed.

This then is the essence of mainstream FAKE NEWS: the lie by omission. The professionals are by and large too experienced to resort to outright mistruths, but they can steer - or torture - the facts to tell whatever story they so desire. The same deficits, the same policies, can be presented in entirely different lights; for one particular POTUS, questionable decisions are consistently magnified, while all the good he does - for the disadvantaged, for science, etc - is interred. As Vox inadvertently confessed: truth is irrelevant, image is all.

Fair & balanced education in a Californian high school
(Source: r/the_donald)

And you know what? This is GOOD.

It is oft stated that the current POTUS is enemies with the press. A better question might be why the POTUS should be pally-pally with the press. So that facts not be reported, so that the media can paint him in a better light, as part of some entrenched quid pro quo? Why was the monthly usage of tear gas against would-be border jumpers glossed over for years, and only dragged out into the limelight - and criticized as an illegal chemical weapon to boot - when convenient?

These things are fine, the message seems to be, when the incumbent is more quiescent - a little more surface charm, a dab more glibness of the sort favoured by those graduating from the same elite four-year colleges, and a multitude of sins can be overlooked. Again and again, some fresh new evil is unearthed, only for it to be hilariously revealed (but not broadcast with nearly the same eagerness) that this was just how America had gone about it all along. But it was okay.

I say, continue with the revelations - the people have a right to know, after all, even if the whole truth can get rather unappetizing. Whatever happens, the power of the mainstream media looks to be irrevocably and permanently broken - and for good reason, given how it had been consolidated into the hands of only a few private interests, with next to no accountability. Finally, they are confronted by someone who will rip them on obsessing over extra ice-cream scoops, and nothingburger mixups. And this loss of blind trust, I say, is good.

Many countries, including us truly, are attempting to arrest the decline of mainstream media propaganda. Heavy-handed punitive measures aside, the real trouble with educating the populace to identify FAKE NEWS is, of course, that much of the mainstream media is actually also biased BAD FAKE NEWS. This is a guerilla War of Information that I cannot see the antiquated mainstream behemoths winning, against far nimbler foes.

FAKE NEWS with local flavour!
(Source: r/singapore)

China - The Defining Issue

Administrations should be assessed based on their major strategic decisions, and in my opinion TRUMP is entirely correct in his laser focus on China, rather than getting distracted by the empty suits' screeching to pile on Russia.

Before continuing, it should be clarified that I have no intention of being a "race traitor" or somesuch; my recommendation rests wholly on the expectation that the path the CCP is dragging China along, being a dead end - a hutong with no exit. Politically, it is difficult to envision anything but a tech-enhanced dystopia. While I have never hidden not being a supporter of organized religion, the internment of a million Uighur Muslims in re-education camps, and barely-lighter treatment of unsanctioned Christians, remains clearly unpalatable.

For whatever reason, Xi Jinping is done with Deng's advice to bide one's time, and has come out swinging with initiatives such as Made in China 2025 and the Belt and Road project. Perhaps they're banking on A.I. being a paradigm-shifting technological equalizer, perhaps it's as simple as having to try something, anything, just to keep it all from falling apart. Either way, alongside the unfettered pursuit of taboo techs such as gene-editing, mind-reading, and outright pilfering of trade secrets, already-extant technologies have already been driven into service of that most traditional of Imperial Chinese philosophies: absolute control. No longer do the Red Emperors have to fret, if their officials in some far-flung province remain loyal; now, it's all merely a single, centralized social credit system away. Wrongthink, comrade? Now you can't go anywhere.

Thucydides Trap (on which more next time) aside, it remains that the (nominally Communist) Chinese worldview remains the only viable competitor to Western classical liberalism - as exemplified by Great America - for the foreseeable future. Now, I'm not insinuating that the US of A is without its faults, far from it. However, the relevant concern is whether the philosophy that they would cede hegemony to, is preferable. I'd say that it's not even close. Consider: in America, critics are hollering authoritarianism for banning a single reporter from the White House for bad behaviour. In China, this isn't a problem, because the reporter would likely quietly vanish without a sound.

The recognition of China as the main challenge to American leadership and liberal democracy is something that the current POTUS has never wavered on, from well before it was fashionable. His identification of the problem - no actual opening-up and democratizing despite WTO engagement - was spot-on. His execution of countermeasures - a trade war right as China comes up against the middle-income trap - is also masterful and forward-thinking. Where past acclaimed-great Presidents built their legacies on bloody wars, this POTUS has restricted himself to more civilized confrontation.

Certainly, friend and foe are amorphous terms, on the world stage - Russia's definitely no saint, but frankly, if it comes to election meddling, what major power doesn't try it? The criteria often aren't even well-defined - for example, overt support by foreign dignitaries for the establishment Stay Vote during the Brexit build-up appeared more than welcome, but much less so for Leave... and in any case, if Russia could swing it with like US$5000 in Google ads, perhaps they deserve the win after all.

The bottom line remains, however, that Russia remains a virtual nonentity in the future game, outside of nukes and natural gas, unlike China. The American people needed a visionary who could identify actual key threats, and stick to a rational gameplan despite Deep State interference. They are fortunate to have elected one. Elsewise, the future might not be one of a boot stamping on a human face forever, but only because citizens, knowing that the boot is waiting for them, live with their gaze fixed firmly to the ground...

In which Putin redeems himself slightly,
by purchasing honey for Xi.

(Source: r/china)
[N.B. Winnie the Pooh still banned in China]

[to be continued again...]

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Next: Apology And Analysis II

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