Are Cultural WMDs at work in China?

Personally, I could never understand why Americans back in the ‘70s and ‘80s were so excited about reaching out to China and encouraging it to enter the larger world. Why in heaven’s name would we want China to become a major presence in the globe? From our point of view, wouldn’t it obviously be far better if that behemoth of a nation remained turned in upon itself, not bothering anyone else? Wouldn’t an expansive China only make trouble for us? Well, my passing thoughts of 25 years ago have now become a major preoccupation of serious people, who worry that China is heading towards becoming a globally dominant power in the coming decades, challenging and eclipsing the United States in economic and even military terms.

Of course, one of the competitive advantages enjoyed by the Chinese, as compared to us fragmenting, post-modern Americans, is their strong sense of discipline and collective identity. But that may be changing, as a result of the very forces that have liberated China’s economic energies. According to David Eimer writing in The Independent, even as China is experiencing previously unimagined economic growth and prosperity, it is in the midst of a previously unimagined sexual revolution, with earlier and earlier pre-marital sex, one-night stands arranged on the Internet, and rising approval of adultery—and with the predictable social results such as abortion, HIV, and divorce. All of this represents such a radical break from China’s hide-bound past that one doesn’t know what to think of it.

But it does raise an interesting question. If the Chinese are becoming rootless, sexually anomic modern individuals, with all the destructive social implications that suggests, will that not also undermine their national discipline and reduce the political, economic, and military challenges they may pose to us?

Three years ago in an exchange at VFR, James Woodhill proposed the deployment of “Cultural WMDs” against the Islamic world. “Ally McBealize” the Muslims through a massive infusion of low-level, Western-inspired pop entertainment, he argued, and they would become utterly demoralized and their societies would fall apart and lose any ability to wage jihad. We could defeat them without firing a shot. Ally McBealization has not happened in the Muslim world. Is it happening in China? Will America’s bacon be saved by the destructive forces of the very modernity that America foolishly urged China to embrace a quarter century ago?

A correspondent has some good observations on this:

1. It’s not clear that the symptoms of decadence seen in China mean what the author thinks they do. The Japanese are fairly casual about sex—and, as a pagan culture, seem to have never taken it so seriously as monotheism-derived cultures—but this doesn’t seem to have undone their social discipline. Their social discipline doesn’t derive from things that are impaired by 20-somethings hooking up.

2. Even if decadence will soften China, or the Moslem world, it’s not clear it will do so fast enough to neutralize them. Even if you assume decadence hits at 100% force today, that gives us another 40 years of people in power who grew up before it hit, and who don’t suffer from it.

3. You just can’t assume that decadence, even if it does hit, will make unthreatening. The Saudi monarchs are decadent beyond imagining, but this only seems to make them more eager to push jihad to prove they’re still good Moslems.

Posted by Lawrence Auster at December 11, 2005 06:33 PM | Send

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