Last modified: 7:58 AM Saturday, 14 January 2017

To build a palace in the clouds

The “People’s Republic” of China isn't one. The revolution that Chairman Mao led in 1949 is quite dead; Mao died in 1976, and it didn’t long survive him. Not since the prosecution of Mao’s widow and the rest of the “Gang of Four” has China really aspired to communism. Today, its economy is called “mixed” by the euphemistic press, implying that it combines elements of Maoism with traits of modern capitalism.

Precarious mansion

Precarious mansion: China has recently achieved unprecedented wealth, but at what cost?
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As with so much in the corporate-owned and advertising-dependent mainstream press, this deception serves a purpose: to conceal in rhetoric of communism versus free enterprise the essential fact about China: In no substantive sense does its ruling elite differ from that of the United States.

What ethics prevail in China today would have met the approval of post-revolutionary French Prime Minister Francois Guizot: “Enrichissez-vous,” this royalist in liberal’s clothing told his less pecunious compatriots as he disenfranchised them: Get rich, and you can have political power.

So it is today in the people’s republic that isn’t. So it is, too, in my country, that “democratic republic” across the Pacific.

Douglas Adams once described an “ancient democracy” ruled by lizards. The lizards treated the people horribly, but the people kept re-electing them; otherwise, they shuddered to recount, “The wrong lizard might get in.” This describes the US’ present notion of democracy: We may choose lizard (D) or lizard (R). The lizards are selected for us in advance by the party apparatus and brought to us by corporate sponsorship, and to refuse to vote for either is, we are angrily reminded by the “realists” among us, to waste one’s franchise.

We don’t have a democracy or a republic. We have an illusion. This we have in common with China: The people’s republic that isn’t looks unsettlingly like the democratic republic that never really was. And, not coincidentally, both ruling elites have become kleptoplutocracies bent on the economic rapine of the world.

I ask the people of China five questions:

  1. Does China today resemble a worker’s paradise?
  2. Does it resemble paradise at all?
  3. Are you free to speak your mind? On any subject? Or will your voice be quenched should it ever be really heard?
  4. “Rich,” former Chinese president Deng Xiaoping once said, “means virtuous.”Are these the words of a communist or a plutocrat?

    Yes, you are free, in theory — as, putatively, are we — to get rich and win a “good” life for yourself. But how good is this “good”?
  5. Of what use is it to be rich in a world that is crumbling? What is wealth if the air is choked with smoke and dust and soot and a stinging fog of chemicals? Of what worth money, if your water is tainted with poisons that water-treatment facilities aren’t equipped to detect, much less remove?

    Radiation is on the wind, more of it every day: Can you pay it to go away? Can you outrun it? Can you buy sanctuary from the consequences of our mad economic race to perdition? Perhaps. But can your children, and theirs?

Sometimes what appears intelligent is not. We praise as “smart” those who successfully win great wealth, but what most of them do to get it is far from smart. Moral intelligence is missing; there is no reckoning with the consequences for posterity of runaway self-enrichment. What has been a relative success for an individual, or a class of individuals, promises absolute failure for our species as a whole.

In China as in the United States as in Egypt and Tunisia, this is a moment of decision. Shall we let our elites continue to destroy, in the name of economic growth, every attribute of nature vital to our existence? Shall we continue to suffer this amoral minority to drive us from disaster to avoidable disaster until it has pushed us over the tipping-point of self-obliteration? Shall we go on bowing to our self-anointed betters as they rob us, bit by bit, of all that we thought we could rely upon for sustenance?

Or shall we organize ourselves, and plan, and finally come forth upon an appointed date in our invincible billions to demand an end to this pathological aristocracy?


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