Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Philosophers have only interpreted the world in various ways, the point is to change it

Beijing's 'Bookworm' is a good place to come up for air; the coffee is illy, the wireless connection is decent enough and, most importantly, there is a selection of books that would, at first glance, surprise many people. For instance,  Richard McGregor's 'The Party: The Secret World of China's Communist Rulers' is available. Or at least it was available at the beginning of the year. Yes, they can be pretty fickle in Beijing and one day there is no problem just sticking up a satellite dish, turning on your vpn and even picking up a hard copy of a western newspaper at a selected spot (normally a five star hotel or at the airport in Shanghai) .... but we don't even have to wait until the next day?

That is because, even if we are just relaxing and living our "dolce vita" a la 'carpe diem', enjoy the latte by all means, enjoy the ambiance, but scratch the surface and did you notice that there is a whole page missing in that edition of Hong Kong's 'South China Daily' and where is that 'Guardian' article that you read on the internet and where is Frank Dikötter's book on the great famine? In 1981 the "capitalist roader", Deng Xiaopeng,  might have announced that Mao was 70 per cent right and 30 per cent wrong, but don't you think you are going to openly criticise him. You can have your 30%, but and the historical narrative is not going to be interfered with by Frank Dikötter or anyone else. As Richard McGregor quite rightly informs us, the party will determine the story and, as Wen Jinbao told Adam Boulton, it is a five thousand year narrative. The problem, however, is that the five thousand year civilisation has about as much substance as Greek democracy and the Qings and the Mings and the rest of them were at least as exclusive as the 1% who traipsed around in ancient Athens spouting out their gobbledegook while the majority of their subjects lived out existences that were even more solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short. than that depicted in Hobbes's 'Leviathian'. Yes, the great civilisations, and I mean all of them, were more than a trifle uncivilised. Does nobody read Marx anymore?

Well, Slavoj Žižek does and he does come to some very sound conclusions. Therefore, it was rather distressing to watch him recently in a conversation with Julian Assange, which was moderated by Democracy Now!’s Amy Goodman. It is not that he is wrong when he says that we in the West are being informed in a way that allows us to ignore what we know and that "they" tell us part of the truth to make it all the more plausible. Moreover, he succinctly hits the nail on the head when he informs us how the Chinese government clamped down on a story about time travel because they are afraid of people imagining alternative realities outside those encompassed by the official story. Nevertheless, with regard to the West, does he really believe that Wikileaks will make it more diffiicult for us to ignore what is happening. Most of the information that has been handed over to the mainstream media is already being ignored. Moreover, Julian Assange's assertion that in a day and age when you don't have to physically remove a "Trotsky" from the photographs but can delete everything by just pressing a button makes it necessary for us to have this "historical record" is absurd. We have digital cameras, we have computers, there are witnesses. In other words, Mr Žižek and Mr Assange, we have Mr Dikötter's book on the great famine and while the Chinese Communist Party will continue to stick to their version of the story, and while, at least in the short term, the Orwellian war on terror will continue here in the West, the story is still being told and history is still in the making.

However, these are dangerous times, and at the moment a nuclear or environmental catastrophe is more inevitable than the historical inevitability that Marx propogated. Nevertheless, there is some advice to Mr Žižek, "the most dangerous thinker in the West"; "The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways; the point is to change it."  In his conversation with Julian Assange, Slovoj Žižek, was not too different from the "Hollywood Left" that he critcises..... and Julian Assange, himself? What a joke! Nevertheless, once again, our "dangerous thinker" synthesises well and, if nothing else, his tete-a-tete at least left me agreeing with his contention that, in some ways, the level of debate and the chances of real change are more likely in a China, where, after all, there are few, if any, mind games and, away from the 70%/30%  formula, few part truths and only a big lie. Of course, if that change is to happen either in the West or in China, it will not be due to the "dangerous thinkers", but rather because of social realities which cannot be surpressed.


Andrew said...

Off topic, but I noticed that we were using the same title "The Essayist" for our respective blogs. Since you seem to be the one actually writing longish articles, I'm ceding the name to you. I can be found at Revolutionary Nonsense, if you should happen to care.


James Nelson said...

will have a look at it