One of the great questions that has emerged in the first quarter of the 21st century has been a question of governance. That question being, “is it better to have authoritarian governance, or is it better to have more traditional western–styled, less authoritarian governance?” Now I know the devil is always in the details and many will, and can, make the argument that, in fact, the West is highly authoritarian.
I’m not going to deny that, necessarily, but when we talk about traditional authoritarianism, we typically look to the regimes of the past — Soviet Russia, the killing fields of Cambodia and so on, and the reason why we posit this question is because of the substantial power that the “Middle Kingdom” (China) now has.
The Middle Kingdom is the go-to for this discussion and we can see this by way of looking at recent events and things that the Middle Kingdom’s government has done. For example, sometime last year the famous Middle Kingdom billionaire, Jack Ma, was temporarily disappeared. We thought he was permanently disappeared only to
resurface later and the connection to be
made here was, the fact that he said some
off-putting things about the government
of the Middle Kingdom.
More recently, a famous Chinese actress who allegedly committed tax fraud has been fined something to the effect of $46 million dollars and it’s likely that even if she has committed a tax fraud, she doesn’t
necessarily owe that much. So, we see this again and again and more recently, with the video game ban in the Middle Kingdom, there are these obvious flexes, but they are in fact manifestations of what we might
describe as more traditional forms of
These are things that are at least, not overtly practiced in the West. There are other things that go onin the west, that would be, however, a separate discussion, but not at the level of China. Probably most significantly, is the fact that “the pestilence”, for better or worse and whatever the ultimate specifics of its origin, originated in the “Middle Kingdom and the Middle Kingdom did not act with one iota of responsibility towards the rest of the world. At least, this is what is said and portrayed in the western media.
With respect to the pestilence and how it is covered in the media, the Middle Kingdom can get away with that, because of certain financial relationships that exist between the occident and the Middle Kingdom.
So, certain things that the Middle Kingdom does would effectively be considered anathema in the west, whether it’s the United States or Europe.
However, on the note of the great pestilence, there is the question that has emerged in the wake of its emergence as to whether or not governments throughout the west have become more authoritarian, in an overt and very visible manner that they hadn’t been in previous decades. Now many people view the circumstances of the pestilence to be perfect grounds for the West becoming more authoritarian; taking advantage of the situation etc., but the crux of the question, when it comes to these questions of authoritarianism versus less authoritarianism is, efficiency. People often
note and remark that a place like the Middle Kingdom is, “more efficient in some
ways. It can simply do what it wants to
do; it can fine people, it can introduce mass bans.”
Many of you readers may know that it’s not just the Middle Kingdom. In Singapore, for example, no conventional drugs are allowed. Alcohol is, after the age of 18, but every other drug that we in the west would consider to be a conventional, is not allowed. Oftentimes, the penalty for that is the death penalty and people can cite that and say, “Look, it works!”
There’s a famous quip about alcohol in the American context of the 1920s — the prohibition era — how prohibition doesn’t work and the great lesson that we learned was that, in the 1920s, the United States government tried to prohibit the consumption of alcohol and it didn’t work and many people viewed this as a kind of axiomatic lesson to be learned from this period in time. Yet, Singapore managed to do it. One could argue that it’s a city-state and that’s the reason why it’s so much easier. There’s probably a lot of truth to that, but it is more efficient in a sense that Singapore has no drug problem that we’re aware of.
The United States has all kinds of drug
problems. Wander the streets of San Francisco, or LA, or wander some small town in Ohio, or Indiana and you will see all sorts of drug problems. Most would agree, that drug problems are generally not a good thing to have. We can see, at least in the case of Singapore, that yes, it’s efficient, but the question that arises from all of this is, “what does it come down to when we talk about governmental efficiency?” We’re not talking about the benefits of that efficiency with respect to the citizens.
Rando Joe is not necessarily benefiting from a highly authoritarian Singaporean or Middle Kingdom government. He is simply there. He might be benefiting in some way, maybe. In a different dimension, he might have become a drug addict and so, he doesn’t have access to those drugs, but he’s not the one who’s directly benefiting from the restrictions. He might believe that he is benefiting from the restrictions and ordinances of the government, but just to reinforce the point here, he is not the primary beneficiary.
So, when people talk about efficiency and how much better it is to have authoritarian
government; sure, but it doesn’t mean that you the citizen are necessarily enjoying it. In fact, you probably wouldn’t be.
The matter of culture and history is important as well. Prohibition did not
work in the United States and if they
tried again, it certainly wouldn’t work any better, because of different history, different peoples, different cultures and so on. All these things coming together are creating, indeed, a very, very different set of circumstances for things of that nature.
The million-dollar question, of course is, in light of the pestilence, many places, even the United states, have decided to mandate the use of the “anti-pestilence elixir”. The anti-pestilence elixir is probably the single most polarizing and disruptive political issue of our time. I am blown away by how the topic of the anti-pestilence elixir has riven friendships and families, twain. It is actually, pretty bonkers if you think about it.
Now, I’m highly ambivalent about the anti-pestilence elixir. I no longer have a strong position on it, one way or another; personally, I think forcing people to imbibe the anti-pestilence elixir would be a bad thing, but there are debates raging on in many places of the world, specifically in the west; things we never would have thought to be an issue. For example, in New York City, there is right now a debate about mandating the imbibing of the anti-pestilence elixir in various universities and private institutions. The United States have now required the consumption of the anti-pestilence elixir by students in order for them to be able to study. That is creepy and of course in light of this, this means that maybe, western governments are
edging towards a system that is more
akin to the system like the Middle Kingdom.
It is understandable, nonetheless, because perhaps western governments see that things are “more efficient” in the Middle Kingdom in this regard than they are in the West.
Now, of course, even if western governments wanted to go there, starting with the requirement of mandating the anti-pestilence elixir, because for better or worse, western governments are “democratically elected”. This means people vote (something that doesn’t occur in the Middle Kingdom or in other places), where effectively, the person who is elected, is elected for life; that would be a big obstacle to becoming extremely authoritarian. Yet, it seems to be one of these wedge issues. You can debate whether or not the anti-pestilence elixir is a wedge issue; that western governments have fewer issues being authoritarian. So, for example, we’d almost never get a situation in Europe or United States where there would be proscriptions against the amount of hours you can play video games per week. It sounds absolutely absurd, even though the
Middle Kingdom is doing this, but when it comes to other things, people are a lot “iffier”.
Video games, presumably, don’t affect everybody else. When it comes to this matter of the anti-pestilence elixir, or the pestilence itself, because there are, for better or worse, diverse opinions on it, it is much more of a selling issue to people, because many people feel that the anti-pestilence elixir should be a requirement. This is so, because if you haven’t imbibed it, you are a public hazard to others. That’s a view that a lot of people have and other people on the other side of the fence, feel that the government forcing you to make personal choices about your body, is a tricky issue.
Now, I’ll submit to you, again, as somebody who is now very ambivalent about this matter of the anti-pestilence elixir, that it is by no means a clear-cut issue. For example, alcohol as discussed earlier, is a deadly toxin. I would argue that it is the deadliest drug civilization has known, just in terms of the sheer body count and the destruction it causes socially — health-wise it destroys lives — and drunk drivers destroy lives too, but nobody is going to attempt to tell people in the west they cannot drink alcohol, despite its deadly potential. This is not a
perfect analogy, but with regards to the
anti-pestilence elixir, it’s not too dissimilar.
So, the question is, where do you draw the
line? My own view when it comes to this
authoritarian issue is: it sounds nice on
paper, but again the person — the citizen —
is subjected to these authoritarian measures; is not the beneficiary of these
things; he is not the person that is getting off on this stuff; he’s ultimately a pawn of sorts. Bureaucrats and government institutions definitely like this sort of stuff. They enjoy it, but it really is a question of preference. Do you prefer to have a country that can get things done on the drop of a dime, by way of the most draconian measures? Or, do you prefer the comparable mess that we have in the west, and I have to say for myself, on balance, because I’m not a huge fan of authoritarianism, I probably prefer the mess of the west, all the while granting that it is a mess and our countries are not doing very well and they might even be at a distinctive advantage compared to the Middle Kingdom. Like so many things in life, it comes down to personal preference.