The important question in a political dispute is not “who is right?”

Thursday, August 15th, 2019

The number of anonymous Twitter handles worth reading can be counted on two hands, T. Greer says. One of them, @itrulyknowchina, shared this tweetstorm about the Chinese reaction to Hong Kong:

The overwhelming majority of Chinese mainlanders, including or especially the educated, comparative liberal ones, have lost their brains on the issue of Hong Kong — genuinely buying into whatever the Party has been selling. And this makes me really frightened.

Many bought into the foreign incitement bullshit. What kind of foreign “black hand” can whip two million people onto the street on a single day and keep tens of thousands on the streets week after week? It’s just bullshit.

Plus, the “black hand” theory is so looking down on HK citizens — are they that stupid to be manipulated by a few “black hands”? What can drive these HK citizens except their own grievances and discontent?

There are so many bullshit theories that I just don’t want to go through one by one. Bottom line is the overwhelming majority of Chinese mainlanders including the elite ones have been brainwashed so thoroughly that they don’t have any critical thinking capabilities left on them.

They can’t tell black from white. They can’t tell right from wrong. And they don’t know what is good for Hong Kong and perhaps most importantly what is good for China (even within its most narrow definition) in the long run.

This phenomenon, namely that the hearts and minds of the overwhelming majority of Chinese mainlanders are under the fingertips and easily manipulated by the Party, is gonna have far reaching repercussions for China and the world in the long run.

Beijing is gonna feel ever emboldened, having been reassured by the “patriotism” it has seen on HK issue. It will therefore act more toughly and recklessly on external affairs. Nations across the world will find — have already found — China adopting a much tougher stance.

China doesn’t have checks and balances built in internal politics, so one of the few little things that could vague check Beijing’s hand is the elusive collective “feeling” of its citizens. If Beijing is confident in manipulating public opinion, it fears nothing (not even USA).

It is not accurate or especially helpful to chalk Chinese beliefs about Hong Kong to state propaganda, T. Greer argues:

If it was all a matter of propaganda and censorship, then the whole thing could be resolved by exposing Chinese to the truth. There are obvious snags here. Take those Chinese students in New Zealand and Australia that attacked the pro-Hong Kong marchers. They have escaped the Chinese censorship machine. Are they any better off for it? They are exposed — quite directly — to opposing narratives. Have they been moderated by it?

Censorship is the wrong lens through which to view this issue.

American readers, an intellectual exercise: think for about thirty seconds about your partisan opposites. In that thirty seconds, tally as many of crazy, unconscionable, obviously false things commonly believed by the other side’s rank and file.

Now: reflect on the American Great Fire Wall — but that is right, we do not have one. We are free to read whatever views we will. You cannot live in our country and not eventually come across arguments from the other side.

So why do so many Americans they believe stupid things?

We know the answer to this query. I have written about it before. Hugo Mercier and Dan Sperber have written a superb book about it. Moshe Hoffman’s twitter feed (one of that service’s few other gems) is a daily exploration of it. Humans do not reason to find truth. Reasoning and rhetoric were useful adaptations in mankind’s evolutionary past because reason and rhetoric help us build coalitions. We argue to win. The telos of reason is victory. Every other application is a fortunate accident.

The important question in a political dispute is not “who is right?” but “who is on our side?”


  1. Bob Sykes says:

    If the Chinese people, even educated ones, are brain-washed, what about Americans? For well over 100 years, the US has attacked and invaded countries that did nothing to us. Spanish colonies, Central America, the Caribbean, the Balkans, North Africa, the Middle East, Central Asia, and even China, itself. All of that is outside of WW I and WW II. And all of those aggressions were strongly supported by the American people.

    The tragedy of Hong Kong is that a people who grew up with economic liberty and autonomy and a modicum of political independence will now be suppressed. Xi really has no choice. If he lets Hong Kong go, his regime will be seen by the Chinese as illegitimate. It would also encourage Taiwan to declare independence.

    The Chinese Communist Party is not the same as Gorbachev’s Soviet Communist party. The Chinese still believe. They saw what happened in the USSR, and they are determined not to allow it in China.

    As to the “black hand,” after Georgia, Ukraine, Egypt, and Turkey, the belief that Hong Kong is yet another American created color revolution is not absurd. There is a fair probability that this is an American led coup d’état.

  2. Edgewise says:

    “There is a fair probability that this is an American led coup d’état.”

    So, that’s supposed to be a “bad” thing, right?

  3. Harry Jones says:

    The Age of Em has the concept of “construal level theory” which states that the reason people are stubbornly pigheaded about things is that the advanced part of the human brain evolved to virtue signal, not to seek reality. It’s called social intelligence.

    Social intelligence helps average minds work together and thus pool their efforts for the greater good. For superior intellects, trying to work with the mundane can be limiting. But we still must interact with them. To me, such dealings are a problem to be solved, the same as I analyze and solve any other problem.

    I rarely take anyone’s position on the issues of the day at face value. For most, such speech is just behavior, not the expression of thought. This is why persuasion by force of facts and reason rarely works. You can’t reason someone out of a position he was never reasoned into.

  4. Alrenous says:

    I especially liked the part where Hong Kong couldn’t possibly be controlled by propaganda, but mainlanders were entirely in its thrall.

  5. Lu An Li says:

    “Chinese students in New Zealand and Australia that attacked the pro-Hong Kong marchers.”

    Those attacking the protesters probably controlled and dominated by Red commissars.

  6. L. C. Rees says:

    To steal a phrase, empire is cruelty and cannot be refined. The American nation and, though 191 years younger, these United States of America, have killed lots of people, stolen lots of loot, and conquered lots of land in the name of God, glory, and gold, though not always in that order of presentation or priority.

    It’s what empire do.

    In this we are no different from the many incarnations of China, or any other kindred, tongue, and people, except perhaps in the intensity of our sanctimoniousness and the depths of our legalistic attempts to cover our transgressions. One common expression of both that sanctimoniousness and that legalism is drawing a curtain of hypocrisy across our history and saying there is righteousness, now is evil.

    This pretense, built on a firm foundation of sanctimoniousness and legally ratified piety, has been both a strength and a stumbling block for this people. From a sprinkling of exiles from a small damp island on a hostile shore, we have risen to dominate the Earth, a feat few have matched in the long reach of time. Pretense is one thread in the formula for American success and failure that led to the our fading unipolar moment.

    We conquered before 1898 to get the brass ring. We conquered after 1898 to get the brass ring. In this the mystery of American behavior in the first half of the 20C is no different from the mystery of American behavior in the second half of the 20C nor American behavior in the 17C, the 18C, or the 19C. WWI made us the dominant power on the planet. WWII confirmed our dominance. Some of this was due to our raw power and brutishness. Some of this was due to the fact that we often believe our own pretense.

    China, even under the PRC, has its own forms of pretense and its own forms of cruelty. The American has the scrappy underdog rising to face and defeat true evil despite the odds. The Chinese have the virtuous bureaucrat respectfully submitting a memorial to a less than virtuous leader and, more often than not, being killed for his efforts.

    We have Batman, they have Zhuge Liang. Both superheroes of a sort, expressing the innards of their peoples. Will that ritual sacrifice summon the winds to stop the Joker? Will that batarang sink the fleets of Cao Cao? Is the view from the streets of Gotham better than the view from the Red Cliffs? Similarities and differences, virtues and vices will determine who will stand and who will fall.

    We have the brass ring. China wants the brass ring. They can have it, if they can take it.

    The establishment liberal who thinks themselves a citizen of the world and the conservative who longs for the virtues of the Old Republic have one thing in common. Though the cosmopolitan believes themselves a citizen of a better future and the localist believes themselves a citizen of a better past, if you drop them in the middle of any number of out of the way spots in the world, the denizens of that spot will only see an American, a citizen of the present. Depending upon what America they’re currently seeing, it won’t matter how woke the citizen of the world is about American blood guilt or how much the citizen of mom and apple pie wishes McKinley had just stayed home. They will reap what America has sown, whether with hospitality or with a bone-saw.

    We see and draw sharp dividing lines between ourselves.

    Foreigners see Americans.

    It’s what people do.

  7. lucklucky says:

    Reasoning is forging of a narrative, or a machine of social competition to get social advantage over others.

    Remember me of this excellent article by Joe Katzman:

    “Not about being right, which is best described as “useful, to a point.” Aristotle noticed over 2,000 years ago that many people aren’t persuadable by logical arguments. So what’s the “feeling good” all about?

    The right’s favorite mistake

    Try this on for size:

    People often take public positions in an attempt to increase their social status.

    Where the meta-message inside political correctness is to override your own judgement, in favor of deliberately-shifting judgements from people with higher status.

    Leftism isn’t a policy machine or an economic machine. Its economic results would tell you that much in a hurry. But the machine keeps running. Which means it must work for something. The correct question is: in what way does it work?

    Analysis: Leftism is a status machine. A very, very successful status machine. Conservatives have lost status battle after status battle, often because they fought it as a policy battle. It rarely is.

    That’s conservatism’s most consistent and most damaging mistake.

  8. Felix says:

    I suggest reading the *end* of that post quoted here. The end lays out a point clearly, without the generality of the last sentence quoted here.

  9. Harry Jones says:

    Brainwashing is nothing more or less than drumming a narrative in the victim’s head while at the same time denying access to any information that would disprove the narrative. The second part is the tricky part. It takes near absolute control over the subject’s life, and is why only the powerful can do it.

    But a parent has such control over a child. The school system has even more control. When the parents and the school system are on the same page, we have cultural conditioning, which is brainwashing.

    No, I’m not saying all culture is brainwashing. I’m saying most culture is.

    Even purely random information defeats brainwashing, if you expose the victims to it young enough. I’ve blown young people’s minds simply by mentioning facts that anyone who’s been around would be aware of. I didn’t even express an opinion, merely mentioned particulars in passing. I think I accidentally interfered with their brainwashing, and that’s fine.

  10. Graham says:

    It applies at less immediately political/strategic levels too.

    I genuinely can’t think of a purely logical/rational [never figured out the precise difference] ‘end’. Not even survival. The closest I could come, but not really rational. Instinctive. And not for everyone.

    Everything that is rational or logical is so only as a testable means to an irrational, preferential end.

    Granted, the question of what is an end and what is only a means to a higher end is kind of a turtles all the way down situation. And the actual end might be hidden from view.

    Star Trek corrupted the minds of many, loved it though I did, in this case in the way the writers put the word “logic” into Nimoy’s mouth in often wrong, always inconsistent ways. How reason ended up with that fate, dunno.

  11. Graham says:

    I should have added, or a means to serve an irrational, preferential moral principle.

  12. Graham says:

    LC Rees makes many good points, though I’m much more positive about the western experience of empire in some ways. No moral qualms at all.

    I might wish there had been less of it, but only if it would have helped avoid a wide array of problems now. On the whole, a more robust mindset among western peoples today would obviate my concerns.

    Then again, I don’t feel the need to argue against China on universalist, moralizing grounds, so I don’t need to make comparisons.

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