What is going on? People's perceptions in China and in the West are so absolutely out of sync nowadays that I feel the urge to write about this disconnect. Generally speaking people in China are optimistic about the future and they trust their political decision makers while in the West people are generally pessimistic and totally distrust their political decision makers as well as the other elites of their societies which renders them weary about the future. Am I the only one to be shocked by the intensity of this disconnect?
Change is assaulting our certainties as never before. The fields it affects are multiplying while its speed is accelerating and in consequence our minds are being numbed into incomprehension. But the mind does not easily accept the uncertainties resulting from incomprehension. To avoid disruption to the life of its carrier the mind searches to make sense out of her/his condition as it is being fashioned by its broader contextual setting. The fact of the matter is that we are indeed no more than a parcel, or a particle, of a broader reality that acts as an active process generating the reality of its constitutive parts. The condition of the human particle is thus given by the action of its context. This implies that the activity of our individual minds is being substantiated by the context that we are surfing on, consciously or unconsciously, since the beginning of our lives.
I lived in Europe during my youth but I became disillusioned by the decision makers, the intellectuals, and the artists' complete inertia in the face of a historical reality that I saw turning from the era of Modernity to a new era. China had just decided to reform its society while opening up to the rest of the world and I somehow thought that its actions would rapidly transform into the active ingredients of the making of future history. By the end of the Eighties I was living in China. Years later in the midst of the creative chaos unleashed by its plunge into Modernity the country was well on its way to completely renew its infrastructure but this was accomplished at the cost of wrecking the habitat of its citizens. By 2000-2002 the sun and blue sky, that earlier were the daily normal in Beijing, had completely disappeared behind an impenetrable wall of dark-gray smog. To my mind the air was no longer breathable and I thought that the time had come to leave China. I spent the next 12 years in the US where I first witnessed the engineering of popular consent for the destruction of the countries of the Near and Middle-East and then I witnessed the engineering of a class war by the richest 1 percent against the other 99% of society. By 2014 the country had lost any semblance of societal cohesion and it became evident that a new kind of engineering was soon going to be necessary to keep it together. The time had come to escape the US before a dystopian folly would engulf it. By that time it also had become obvious that the future of the world, for better or for worse, was going to be shaped in Beijing. The sun and blue skies had also made their come-back at least 75% of the time largely due to governmental action. It was thus easy to determine where to live next.
Back in Beijing I started reading avidly all I could put my hands on relating to what in my mind was becoming a certainty; I mean that the epoch we live in is a period of transition from the historical era of Western Modernity to what is slowly starting to shape as the new historical era of After-Modernity. And to clarify this hunch I decided to put my ideas on paper. This formed the content of the series "From Modernity to After-Modernity" that I have been publishing on this blog over the last 3 years. I was well on my way to terminate this series last winter but the sheer surrealism of the news coming out of Europe and the US somehow suddenly captured all my attention and this abruptly switched my mind from writing to reading. I was dumbfounded and intrigued by the stupidity of the narrative that had overtaken the thinking of the majority of Western societal actors and commentators who were engaging in what I could only qualify as a dance to war. My mind was suddenly confronted with a possibility that till then had totally escaped me. The ideological mold of the unification of Europe which was posited as the guarantor of the peace between nation states had indeed given form to my early thinking and the possibility that Late-Modern societies could annihilate each other through war had thus been erased from my mind. But the recent furious bout of Western media propaganda has surely awakened me to the reality of such a possibility and this has been paralyzing me over the last 3 months.
The scent of the air of the times in the commentaries and studies in the Western media could not be further apart from the scent of the air of the times in China. Pessimism is the new normal in the West where thoughts concentrate on a societal reality that is slipping very rapidly downwards past the peak of an exponential curve that in better days visualized the abstract idea of progress and the production of economic abundance. Unfortunately the slipping downwards on that exponential curve is the statistical confirmation of a societal reality that is deteriorating at an exponentially fast rate which is best illustrated in Linh Ding's blog "Postcards from the End of [the] America[n Empire]". As a result Western populations are fed up with the elites that control the levers of power and to counter popular distrust the latter use deception and ideological manipulation to maintain their monopoly over societal power. Very soon they will have to resort to brute force as their prime tool to keep their societies from imploding into collapse and that's when staying at a distance from their dystopian folly will appear to be pure wisdom. The contrast with the air of the times in China could not be starker. China is still at the beginning of its upward move on this same curve which is the statistical confirmation of a societal reality that is booming. The air of the times in China today corresponds to the air of the times that prevailed in the West in the nineteen-sixties when any thought of a future fall was inconceivable. In other words the present old age societal pessimism of the West contrasts radically with the societal optimism of an adolescent China that has barely set foot in Modernity.
Such a societal contrast informs us about a similar contrast in the perception of reality by the individuals. Western societal pessimism pulls the individuals towards dual extreme views:
- or a blind belief and faith in technology as a savior that is eerily reminiscent of religiosity
- or a blind belief in societal collapse and the eventual demise of the human species
In contrast Chinese societal optimism fostered by a recent material abundance pulls the individuals towards the view that, amidst the social and cultural chaos resulting from the jump of their country into Modernity, they need to re-integrate their national and civilizational roots in order to give sense to their lives. It is already palpable that this move of the individuals back to their traditions is greatly strengthening China's societal cohesion and the further affirmation of this trend will necessarily solidify the foundation of their future societal house. What we witness today is the early confrontation, by the individuals, of Modernity with Chinese traditions. Traditions had been erased by the cultural revolution and so Modernity was able to spread without obstacles. And now that Modernity is already well implanted traditions come back as if to soothe the ills of Modernity. As I see it this confrontation of Modernity with Chinese traditions is slowly resulting in a new worldview that integrates Chinese traditions and ecology and this integration applies to the fields of nature (biological evolution: genes) and of mind (societal evolution: memes).
Living in China but reading Western commentaries the contrast between China and the West that I allude to could not be starker. I plan to illustrate this contrast in a series of posts that I'll upload during the coming summer and then sometime in the autumn I'll terminate part 3, or book 3, of the series "From Modernity to After-Modernity" that I had interrupted abruptly this last February.