Sunday, November 13, 2011

Maybe it's because you're an IDIOT, Paul

Wistaria House, Taipei
A typical dark, rainy late autumn day in Taipei today, and we gathered at Wistaria House (the historic teahouse known for early pro-democracy activism and the movie Eat Drink Man Woman) to do what one really ought to do there: drink tea, shoot the breeze, and talk philosophy and politics.

The now-infamous op-ed piece published in the New York Times (for some reason) came up - I find it so abhorrent that I don't even want to link to it directly. But I will, I guess. The prevailing theory among my friends is that Paul Kane's a hack (keep in mind that many of my friends studied International Politics) and that the NYT just likes the controversy it's drumming up. I can't think of any other reason to publish such a steaming turd-pile.

Brendan's take: Paul Kane is clearly the sort of academic who can't handle complexity and discussing politics and current affairs through an appropriately in-depth understanding of the issues. He's the sort - and libertarians do this too, I might add - who reduces very difficult situations to simple models that suit his needs and disregards anything that could upset the simplicity of his ideas (and I use "simple" in the way that a 19th century governess would to describe one of her charges who was especially slow). With ideas based on models rather than reality, his understanding of the deeper issues is about as thorough as a four-year-old's understanding of the mechanics and engineering of trains, from his model train set. He can't afford to take into account things that upset the balance, like how the Taiwanese might feel about this, how it not just might, but would start a cross-strait war, and how political negotiation is rarely as straightforward as "you cancel our debt, we give you Taiwan". At least it hasn't been since Europe gave Czechoslovakia to Hitler. And gee, that sure worked out. That what a people and their government thinks is only important in relation to how much power that country has globally, so the only people whose ideas matter are the US's and China's, and everyone else is like a butterfly flapping its wings in Malaysia, which might cause a storm: something you can't and shouldn't take into account. Basically, these sorts of people - Kane, a lot of people in the State Department and on international affairs advisory committees, the stupider sort of academics, libertarians and most conservative economists - look at the world the way a sociopath would ("sociopath" being my word) - with zero empathy. They're chess pieces, big ones if they're lucky, small ones if they're not, and what matters isn't people but the game: both the political game and the economic one. There's no accounting for actual people, because it's all models...and let's be honest, models don't work.

(Some of the above, like the train set analogy, is mine).

Joseph's take: It's just plain more complex than that! Hacks like Kane treat Taiwan as a troublemaker, a thorn in the side of the USA, but it's not Taiwan that's the problem. Taiwan has issues (human trafficking is a biggie) but generally speaking is probably one of the easiest and least offensive countries to deal with in Asia, if not the world. The problem - the thorn in our side - is China acting like a spoiled little bitch (his words, not mine, but they really need to be emphasized). Taiwan is not a part of a bigger country that wants to be free, or a province looking for independence - it's a de facto independent political entity, and Taiwan is not the problem. China is, and the solution is not to just bend down and **** China's **** (redacted for the sake of my Moms), which is what this move would be. Furthermore, Taiwan really should be the US's easiest bargaining chip (we all hate referring to Taiwan as a "bargaining chip" but let's be honest - in the eyes of the US government, it is). It doesn't have to send troops. It doesn't have to impose sanctions. All it has to do to keep a little bit of strategic one-uppery on China is to throw out a few "we hope for a peaceful resolution" platitudes and sell it some arms from time to time. How is that so hard? It's a huge advantage for the US. Giving it up would be idiotic.

My take: all of the above, and the fact that Kane seems to just assume that this won't have any adverse impact - that because the feelings, thoughts and opinions of the Taiwanese don't matter, that selling Taiwan to China won't incite a cross-strait war. But it will - I know of very few Taiwanese people who want to unify with China. I know more who think it's inevitable, but almost none who actually want it. I know plenty of people who feel that keeping the status quo is the best way to go, but none who would think that way in a world in which China was not a threat: they'd vote for independence, not unification. The status quo is a necessity, not a desired state, in their minds. And for every apathetic sort, I know a few who would fight. Taiwan would almost certainly lose that war (OK, it certainly would without assistance), but not until horrific carnage was racked up. The death toll, the economic costs (especially in the tech industry, seeing as Taiwan is one of the core pillars of semiconductor technology, OEM products and more), and the political strife it would cause in East Asia is something the US can't possibly accept or justify. That alone should be enough to realize why Kane's idea goes beyond idiotic and into the "I'm just an idiot trying to stir up controversy" territory.

Plus, well, think about it: America not only can't afford to police the world for democracy, but also I'm not nearly convinced that the USA as a nation has the moral compass to be able to do so effectively. We can't go sending the military around the world to force democracy on people (as much as I am a fan of democracy). Taiwan isn't like that - it takes very little effort for a fairly big payoff. And while we can't force democracy on countries like China, we shouldn't go in the other direction and sell out functioning democracies like Taiwan to autocratic, corrupt states like China. We can't force democracy, but we shouldn't be taking actions that actively dismember it. Selling Taiwan out to China would do just that.

He says somewhere in the piece that people will think his idea is crazy and unworkable.

Well, DUH. Because it IS.

And with that, I've already wasted too much time on this worthless piece of tripe. I'm going to go find more funny pictures of AIDS brochures.


Anonymous said...

I SAID THREE DAYS AGO: "the KANE Piece i now believe was mere MODEST PROPOSAL satire a la Jonathan Swift...i think he was trying to make a point, the opposite point.... he loves Taiwan in fact.....he hates CHina....this was SATIRE."

But everyone took him too seriously. DOn't people know how to READ anymore.

He now admits to the world that IT WAS A SATIRE. Now what do you say Joe Bloggers and Professors of Taiwan? Get thee to a nunnery!

from Trevor in UK
descendant of Jon Swift

PS; -- My UK friends doubted me saying: "uh, Trevor, old boy, Do you have any reason to believe that this is a Jonathan Swift type of satire? Or is it wishful thinking? I hope you might be right. Kane once worked on Ted Kennedy’s staff.''

Jenna Cody said...

Ummm, I say that if it was a satire, it wasn't a particularly good one.

I say that I doubt it really was a satire - to me it sounded like he published a piece of tripe, people called him out on his idiocy and rather than admit that he was wrong, he pulled the ol' "C'mon guys, it was a JOKE! Can't you take a JOKE?" routine.

Which never works. I don't buy it.

Like Jon Stewart said about a different news item: "It's like a teenage guy hitting on a girl. 'You wanna make out? Hahahaha, I was joking...unless you wanna make out.'"

Anonymous said...

The point above about fighting - I'm an ex-pat living in Taiwan, but I've seriously considered the political ramifications of living here before I came, and during my time here.

If I choose to live in a country, and adopt it as my own - this is serious.

If / when - I then have a decision to make about whether to stand and fight with my countrymen for this piece of land. If we get to that point, I'll either run back to the UK, feeling a coward, but knowing my family is safe, or fight with my countrymen, with the risk that my son may grow up fatherless.

It's a tricky one. "Deserter" - comes to mind if I think of the former. I'm pretty sure most ex-pats would get out and return to the safety of their native countries. But what does that say to us about people? We'll take the good when it's there, then ship out when it goes bad?