Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Intimations of 0481

Hilarious. But somehow not so funny.

Friedman's column today hypothesized what China's diplomatic cables might say if they were Wikileaked. The Chinese appear mostly gleeful that America is doing itself in, and not waking up to the need for national renewal. A sample:
the Americans are oblivious. They travel abroad so rarely that they don’t see how far they are falling behind. Which is why we at the embassy find it funny that Americans are now fighting over how “exceptional” they are. Once again, we are not making this up. On the front page of The Washington Post on Monday there was an article noting that Republicans Sarah Palin and Mike Huckabee are denouncing Obama for denying “American exceptionalism.” The Americans have replaced working to be exceptional with talking about how exceptional they still are. They don’t seem to understand that you can’t declare yourself “exceptional,” only others can bestow that adjective upon you.
Most of the Republicans just elected to Congress do not believe what their scientists tell them about man-made climate change. America’s politicians are mostly lawyers — not engineers or scientists like ours — so they’ll just say crazy things about science and nobody calls them on it. It’s good. It means they will not support any bill to spur clean energy innovation, which is central to our next five-year plan. And this ensures that our efforts to dominate the wind, solar, nuclear and electric car industries will not be challenged by America.
So actually, in China "nobody calls them on it" either. Because, you know, there are things like censorship and state control of media there. In fact, plenty of bad projects go forward for political and ideological reasons, scientific advice be dammed. Pun intended. "Oh details, details," Friedman seems to think, as he glosses over such issues to fit his "China v. U.S., China-is-winning" narrative.

But overall, the message is still pretty stark. We are falling behind, and the most depressing thing is our refusal to acknowledge it. If you cannot even make note of the problem (and it's unclear to me whether it's actual blindness or just willful ignorance), then how can you possibly fix it? Yet we continue to delude ourselves, and our leaders refuse to call out the problem in clear terms, in order to focus the energy and talent of this nation. And so we will remain in this downward spiral, never rising to meet the challenge.
It means America will do nothing serious to fix its structural problems: a ballooning deficit, declining educational performance, crumbling infrastructure and diminished immigration of new talent.
Sigh... I wonder if the tone of this cable qualifies as 幸災樂禍. I title this post 0481 because that is the year 1840 in reverse -- for instead of the West's ascendancy over the Middle Kingdom (kicking down the doors to sell opium, baby!), now we see China rising as America decays, oblivious to its faltering position. I don't mean to be melodramatic, but some of the parallels are clear. And I'm a little apprehensive that America's refusal to reform, its insistence that it is the best-most-superlative everything, even as the world changes around us, could signal the beginning of a decline. I dearly hope not -- but to avert that outcome, we need to get our act together and start moving again.

UPDATE (12/5/2010)
Here's a round-up of a few other folks who take issue with Friedman and his PRC worshipfulness, lol.

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