I read an article in The Economist by the columnist Chaguan, their correspondent in China. It spoke of how China managed to control its middle class from open revolt, coining a term it calls Conformist Individualism. I wonder if Chaguan knows they’ve stumbled upon the secret to Xi Jinping’s (and, by extension, the CCP’s) success in China. The Eastern nation has long had a history of defying Western expectations, since the days of the collapse of the Soviet Union. It was expected that China’s economy would not sustain the shock of capitalism after being so long under Communist rule, as what happened in Russia. It has in fact flourished. With its economy charging ahead as a result of genius public policy, it now seeks to assert political dominance and show the West how to create a successful authoritarian state that can, in fact, outpace the liberal Democratic nations. One way it manages is in controlling its middle class in the way Chaguan describes it in the article above.
What Chaguan has discovered is how China manages to exist despite being an authoritarian government in the age of democracy; keep its majority under control by keeping them happy despite not giving them democracy. When we think of authoritarian control, we tend to think of the oppressed minorities such as the Uyghur, or the Hong Kong Cantonese speakers, or even the Tibetans and Taiwanese. We think of brutal crushing regimes, jackboots stomping on human faces, Orwellian dystopias. Not once do we think of how the same regime provides just enough for its majority to keep them in line by granting them just enough of what they want that they fear to speak up in fear of losing these privileges. That is how China operates; it provides for its people, stamps out the louder minority voices, and blames any shortcomings on its opponents. A similar thing occurred in Malaysia under a previous Prime Minister, Najib Razak — in rural areas, he remained popular despite his corruption being well known because he placated them by providing for them and making them feel as if he had their backs. This approach works the same way in China — in part because there is a grain of truth to what they say about their opponents, namely the US.
A Criticism of Democracy
China’s main point of contention is that democracy is not a good way to govern, and that the people need a strong hand to guide them. It’s true democracy is flawed. I do still believe tyranny is inherent in any government system, with the caveat that I was (and in many ways still am) an Anarchy ‘A’ scrawling anti-establishment punk in my youth. Authoritarians have theirs on full display, whilst democracies hide theirs by drowning the voices of the minority in the cacophony of the majority. Indeed, the insurrection on the US Capitol on January 6th is actually a sign of what happens in a democracy with two competing majorities seeking to establish their own dominance and force their way of life and beliefs upon the other. If the Republicans had won the Democrats would have been forced to accept Republican values, and vice versa. It is the case, in fact, even in a peaceful transition of power and an election in which all parties accept the outcome (that it is still considered an attack on Democracy is due to the fact that the outgoing incumbent refused to do so). It is still the case even on early reality tv shows like Survivor and American Idol — everyone who voted for the loser will feel that their voices didn’t count.
To say nothing of the issue of the rules of voting itself. The Economist (you’ll notice I read this rag a lot, for good reason) recently published an experiment in Quadratic Voting, a system where people allocate a budget of points to different choices, with additional votes to the same choice becoming exponentially more expensive, encouraging spending those votes elsewhere on cheaper choices. The Quadratic Voting system is touted as a ‘fairer’ method of voting, or in other words, making sure that the losers don’t feel like their voting has been entirely useless. This questioning of voting methodology suggests an underlying concern; addressing the cardinal sin of democracy, the tyranny of the majority.
This issue of course does not exist in an Authoritarian government — we know exactly who the tyrant is and how the oppression occurs. Yet, to pretend that the tyranny of the majority does not exert the same kind of oppression as that in an authoritarian tyranny is, in a sense, splitting hairs. Whilst China’s reeducation of Uyghurs is not at all comparable to the silencing of minority voices such as, in America, that of Native and African Americans, their voices still go unheard more often than not due to the fact that they are in the minority. Why else would they protest whenever a black person is killed under dubious circumstances by the police? It was the only way they felt their voices could be heard. The only reason the Black Lives Matter movement made any waves was because it was supported by the majority. Do we even know what issues are of the greatest concern to the Native Americans? They may not be forced to undergo reeducation, but their voices still go unheard — due to their crime of being in the minority.
This Boss The Same As That Boss
The parallels are clear. China crushes its minorities, the US drowns them out. China placates its middle class, the US gives them the sense that they got what they voted for. Both present themselves as being superior to their rivals’ systems. In a way, these systems achieve similar governing goals while taking different approaches. We can also say that China’s opinion on democracy is somewhat justified; in the US, at least, it has failed to placate its majority. That is, according to China anyway, why the nation fell into turmoil. It also puts the lie to the US’s claim that everyone is treated equally under democratic rule — by its very nature it divides people without the need of a central authority.
Perhaps it is easier to attempt reform under democracy. This is doubtful. While there is no central authority ready to stamp down with its jackboot, there is the opposition to your attempt at reform by others who do not want it, and they will fight you from what they believe is an assault on their rights. Witness January 6th. The fact that it was incited by a polemic demagogue means little; while most parties and candidates do not put on an openly populist front, by their very nature of putting one viewpoint forward they appeal to a certain subset and rely on that subset to propel itself forward in the polls. Perhaps what is a sin is calling this out — in other words, openly being a demagogue as opposed to silently being one.
So What, Genius?
What is the solution then? I’m not smart enough to figure that one out. Hell I’m probably not smart enough to write in to the Economist, to say nothing of writing for them. I’m not who you turn to for answers. I’m just some asshole with a blog. You probably shouldn’t listen to me. As I’ve admitted I prefer anarchy to any form of government anyway. The only reason I haven’t extolled the virtues of anarchy to the government is because I also believe anarchy to be inherently unsustainable, but that’s for another time.
I do have other posts still to write, after all. Can’t do that if I waste it all on today’s post. Is this a manipulative method to keep you waiting for more? Maybe. If it is, and some jackhole on the internet deserves this kind of dissection and analysis…perhaps the way we choose our governments do, too.