An Open Letter to the CCP Regarding the HK Protests

umbrellapropagandaRecent events in HK present the Chinese Communist Party with an unprecedented opportunity to consolidate power in the territory.

After the teargas used on the first night backfired, figuratively and at least once, literally, it’s time to reassess your options.  The “guerilla strategy” of occupying many locations simultaneously to spread out the police, combined with the sheer number of protesters and their continued commitment to the movement and to non-violence have created a crisis for China.  But in crisis, there is opportunity.  Since more teargas is unlikely to disperse the protesters, and they seem determined to stay, what options are available to you?

  1. Shut down communication and transportation infrastructures
  2. Escalate the violence
  3. Wait, agitate, infiltrate, and intimidate
  4. Negotiate

Option 1: Shut down the communication and transportation infrastructures

Since the guerilla strategy relies on HK’s excellent communication and transportation systems, shutting down that infrastructure could cripple the movement.  This strategy didn’t work particularly well for the Arab states that attempted to block parts or all of the internet to disrupt protester communication in 2011, and it’s likely to be even less effective in HK, which is small, and densely populated with technologically literate and innovative citizens.  Moreover, to the extent that it does work, it gives protesters part of what they want (disruption of the financial sector as a means of gaining bargaining power) while alienating your most important private sector allies (that same financial sector).  As much as shutting down Facebook and Twitter may seem to work in the Mainland, or in Iran, the reality in HK creates a situation where stifling freedom of expression and movement will cause the government to lose more than it would gain.

Option 2: Escalate the violence

The second option is something you must be considering.  It worked for you in Beijing in 1989, though at considerable cost.  It would be costly again if you tried it again in HK today, likely more so.  As I’m sure you’re aware, the Western “democracies,” particularly the US and the UK, are caught in a bit of a dilemma regarding HK.  While they have to publicly support the democratic aspirations of HK people, their real interest is in the stability of the HK financial system, and in maintaining trade ties to China.  Violence would likely force Obama, Cameron, Merkel, et al. to issue face-saving sanctions against China.

Further, violence might not work as quickly and easily as it did in Beijing.  HK people have long felt like they are having something taken away from them (both in the form of promised “universal suffrage” and in the form of the perceived regional autonomy and individual rights they see slipping away).  The protesters in Beijing in 1989 were fighting for things they had never had, things that remained mere ideas to them.  Much psychological evidence demonstrates that humans are considerably more motivated to avoid losses than they are to make gains.  The motivational logic of loss aversion, as well as the feeling of being coerced by an external other make the psyches of the protesters today in HK potentially more difficult to crack than those in Beijing in ‘89.  The violence necessary to break the collective will of the HK people might be too great to avoid international repercussions.  Much like the communications and transportation infrastructure, it is the human capital of HK that makes it useful to Beijing and its corporate and financial allies.  Violence risks damage to that human capital, just as it risks valuable trade relationships with other nations.

Option 3: Wait, Agitate, Infiltrate, and Intimidate

Waiting is the default option, and the one you are currently engaged in after the teargas brought out more protesters.  Along with waiting, there is concern about the use of provocateurs and intimidators infiltrating the protests, particularly in Mong Kok.  The protesters have contained these efforts so far by remaining calm, and even forming lines to block off provocateurs who seek violent confrontation.  Spies have been spreading disinformation, which may have led to a temporary loss of control of the Mong Kok site by the protesters, but it has been regained.
image

Because the HK people are so much more creative and devoted than the paid thugs of the CCP, subverting the movement in any meaningful way is likely to prove difficult, similar to the way that governments and corporations struggle to stay ahead of hackers when designing internet security.  The 50 cent army is no match for a decentralized, determined movement that feels like it has a lot to lose.

Perhaps you think that you can wait out the protesters, that by next week, after the holidays and the weekend, they will lose steam, and go back to work/school.  I advise you to give that a try.  It would be wise to wait until at least Monday before either escalating or negotiating.

But there is risk in waiting too long.  First, while you wait and attempt to subvert the movement, the protesters gain valuable organizing experience. They become better at handling your tactics, tactics which in comparison will be slow to adapt to a situation in flux.  They may organize to the point that they can occupy in shifts, allowing protesters to participate in the movement while still going to work and taking care of their families.  Second, emboldened and organized, protesters may increase their demands beyond the relatively modest goals of the present and ask for complete independence from China.  Third, you risk the democracy movement spreading to the Mainland, as tourists visit HK and learn from protesters.  If you can’t subvert the movement by next week, you should consider co-opting it instead.
image

Option 4: Negotiate

While seemingly the least attractive, it is the fourth option option that presents the greatest opportunity.  The demands of the protesters are modest, for now.  It seems likely that they can be appeased by an amendment to the Basic Law that allows for public nomination of candidates for Chief Executive, and of course C.Y. Leung’s resignation. The focus on the Chief Executive has caused people to forget about the fact that the CCP has democratically unalterable control over the Legislative Council, control provided by the UK’s parting gift to the CCP, the Orwellian-named functional constituencies.  So you could keep functionally permanent control of Legco, and in the negotiations over the nomination process for Chief Executive, you could strengthen the role of the legislature (don’t call it weakening the Chief Executive) by enacting changes to the Basic Law that allow LegCo to check the power of the Chief Executive, since the legislature is the branch you currently don’t risk losing control over.  But if you wait too long, the people might remember that true universal suffrage means abolishing the functional constituencies as well.

Even with public nomination of Chief Executive candidates, the chances of a member of the Pan-Democratic camp being elected are small, even in a free and fair election.  I’ve mentioned before that one-off elections tend to favor two centrist candidates and are typically easy to manage.  The median LegCo member is still in your camp, as the Pan-Democrats have less than half the elected seats (43 Pro-Beijing to 27 Pan-Democrats).  The current political climate favors the Pro-Beijing camp, but the longer the protests go on, the more that may shift.  At some point, elections in the Mainland may be your best option to quell discontent, and just as your special economic zones gave you experience managing market economies, HK could give you valuable experience managing elections.

The Value of Democratic Cover

The fact of the matter is, you have given in to protesters in HK many times, much more than any “democratic” government does.  CY Leung backed down on the National Education mandate when Joshua Wong, now a leader of Occupy Central, and others led a protest against it.  You have repeatedly given up on attempts to pass an anti-subversion law based on Article 23 of the Basic Law in the face of protests, and you have were forced to sack Tung Chee-hwa  because of it.  If you take advantage of the present opportunity, you will never have to give in to the demands of the people ever again.  All you need is a little “democracy”.

In response to the protests, the US State Department pointed out that, “the Hong Kong chief executive’s legitimacy would be enhanced if people have a genuine choice of candidates.”  And the US should know.  In 2008, the legitimacy of the office of president of the United States was badly damaged.  An deeply unpopular president had just bailed out the bankers who had caused the biggest economic collapse since the Great Depression, and he was prosecuting two unpopular foreign occupations.

Barack Obama was elected on a message of “hope” and “change” and then proceeded to retain Bush’s secretary of defense (Robert Gates), appoint Goldman Sach’s chosen successor (Timothy Geithner) to Bush’s secretary of the treasury (Henry Paulson), and bail out the bankers at taxpayer expense again, while the bankers foreclosed on people’s houses.

When it became obvious to many that Obama’s election had not solved the problems of crony capitalism like many naively had hoped, Occupy WallStreet protested. Obama gave in to none of their demands, and was generally able to label them as a fringe group that didn’t represent the people.  Why was he able to do this when your labeling of Occupy Central as fringe radicals is ignored and ridiculed?  Democratic cover.  Obama was elected, and Occupy WallStreet was not.  The fact that many of the Occupy WallStreet’s demands were Obama campaign slogans was irrelevant.

Obama has been able to roll back civil liberties and and assert presidential powers that only a liberal could get away with asserting.  When Obama asserted the authority to kill anyone in the world, including American citizens, with no checks on his power from any other branch of government, he got away with it despite the fact the people who would have opposed a Republican president doing the same thing, because the people who would have opposed such an overreach from Bush were his supporters.  A two-party system has it’s advantages.  The HK people are asking you to create one.  Want that anti-subversion law passed?  Once your next chosen Chief Executive is “elected,” you can have an anti-subversion law and so much more.  But without public nomination, you have no democratic cover.

Because the US Constitution is perceived as a document that embodies hard-fought freedoms, freedoms Americans believe they fought the British over (even though the Constitution was written more than a decade after the Revolutionary War), Americans defend that document as if it were sacred.  The Constitution sets up a system that is hostile to Americans’ democratic aspirations, much more so than constitutions written more recently in more European countries, whose constitutions include proportional representation and therefore do not set up a two-party system.  Many Americans despise the two-party system; they know that choosing between two candidates who have both been pre-approved by corporations is not really much of a choice.  Yet these same Americans defend the Constitution that creates the system they despise.

Similarly, if you make HK people fight just a little bit more, and then appear to “give in” to their meager democratic demands, you will create a citizenry that will defend the Basic Law, defend the system that allows you to control HK’s politics in perpetuity (you could have a system that works so well for you that you won’t want to change a thing in 2047).  But if you wait too long, those demands may become less modest as the people’s distrust grows.

The unpredictability of the current moment

Understandably, authoritarian infallibility can go to one’s head.  While it’s possible that your propaganda can turn the majority of the Hong Kong populace against the protesters, or that the protests will run out of energy, it’s also possible that they will gain in experience and confidence, and increase their demands to include abolition of functional constituencies or even regional independence.  The reality is that in the midst of history-in-progress, nobody really knows how things will turn out.  Realities are changing too fast for anyone to follow, much less predict.  The safest way to consolidate your power in HK is to give these protesters, who in their naive faith in “democracy,” brainwashed by British imperialists, want nothing more than for you to throw CY Leung to the wolves and allow public nomination of the Chief Executive.  The moment of opportunity to tighten your control is now.  Seize it.  As the protesters say: if not now, when?

(Special thanks to quelky for providing information and links for this post)

An Open Letter to the CCP Concerning Universal Suffrage in HK

urlimages

Dear Chinese Communist Party,

Since it seems clear that you intend to deny the will of the HK People as well as international standards for universal suffrage in the name of maintaining control over the nominating process for Chief Executive in HK, and since I promised I would do so earlier, I’d like to give you some advice about how to run free and fair elections in HK, without having to give up any of the control over HK politics you currently exercise.  In fact, if you follow my advice I’m confident you will find HK much easier to control than it is now.

People are much easier to control when they are less aware of being controlled, and having elections that meet international standards will do much to placate HK democrats, thereby making the populace easier to marginalize on other issues.   There are a few institutional tricks that can help you set up an easy-to-control two party system, instead of this messy multi-party thing going on in the Legislative Council at the moment.  Having only two parties to bribe (we call this making “campaign contributions” in my country, and it’s perfectly legal) makes controlling the political system much simpler and easier, just ask Goldman Sachs, which is regularly among the leading campaign donors to both the Republican and Democratic parties.  Once again, my advice is based on how things work in the good ‘ol US of A.  As a result, my proposal has the added benefit of making it nearly impossible for US politicians (or their loyal “pro-democracy” NGOs) to criticize you, since they would be exposing their own anti-democratic tricks in the process.

I. Duverger’s “Law” and how to create a two-party system

A one-off election, in which whoever gets the plurality of the votes becomes the Chief Executive, would be pretty easy to control, regardless of the nominating process.   (American) political scientists have this principle called “Duverger’s Law,” that demonstrates the logic of single-member district elections: voters will rationalize that minor party candidates can’t win and so they will vote for whichever of the two major parties is closest to representing their views, even if neither party is particularly close (e.g.  Americans against militarism tend to vote for the theoretically slightly less militaristic Democratic Party).  This logic then creates two-party systems.

The multi-party mess in LegCo is largely the result of the geographical constituencies being made up of multi-member districts elected by proportional representation, in which political parties are given seats in proportion to the number of votes they received.  This systems allows for much better representation of voters desires than what exists in the US Congress, obviously not something you want.  It seems the Brits pulled a fast one on y’all with those multi-member districts, since their own voting system is of the much less democratic single-member district variety.  Of course, in LegCo the functional constituencies can outvote the geographical constituencies and this gives you control of LegCo. But non-democratically elected legislators, like overt control of the Chief Executive nomination, is way too obviously undemocratic and as a result people constantly protest the constitutional basis of the political system in HK.

The US Constitution is nearly never protested, nor even questioned, and is in fact worshipped-as-if-divinely-inspired by many of the very Americans who decry domination by elites and the oligarchic US political system.  Yet it has several democracy stifling effects that are less obvious than those in HK, and therefore much more effective in placating the masses.  Single member districts are just part of a complex system that allows elites to rule while maintaining the appearance of consent by the people.

The most recent UK election, not to mention consistently multi-party Parliaments in the UK and India, have caused [non-American] political scientists to question the empirical validity of Duverger’s Law, since it only really seems to work in the USA.  Other features of US politics are likely responsible for creating the uber-controllable two party system only found in the US.  The most obvious is the fact that the President is elected in a one-off, one-day election (no run-off elections or any other democratic elements seen in more modern democracies).  The Electoral College system, a feature of the US Constitution that not even American Libertarians worship, makes each state (except Maine and Nebraska) a winner-take-all battle for electoral votes, having a multiplicative effect on Duvergerian logic.

A similar election for Chief Executive may impose some two-party discipline on Legco, perhaps allowing you to trade single member districts for the abolition of functional constituencies.  Negotiating such a compromise with democratic elements in HK would allow you to meet international standards of universal suffrage without giving up control of the outcomes…provided you learn a couple more lessons from the US and create a system with lots of veto players, and make the right laws regarding campaign finance, and spending on political speech.  More on that later…

Thank a Gay Day

Upon entering my tiny Kowloon apartment, and seeing that I had recently expended some effort to make the place aesthetically habitable, my straight(ish) friend said, “Dude, you are such a homosexual.”  I responded with a laugh, and a thanks.

If a peer would have said that to me when I was a teenager in the 1990s, I would have been compelled to react with (feigned) hostility.  So what changed?  Part of the explanation is obvious: I grew up.  But I was never homophobic.  I spent my teenage years in Madison, Wisconsin, USA, arguably one of the most liberal cities on the planet.  My mother was a psychologist, of the exceptionally touchy-feely, emotionally explicit, LGBT accepting variety.  We had openly gay people staying in our house fairly regularly, and it was no big deal.

But I was on the (American) football team in high school, so I had to rigorously defend my masculinity at all times.  And though my high school environment was about as accepting as any in the country at the time, there were no openly gay boys.  Considering that there were around 2,000 kids at my school, it follows that if there were no openly gay boys, there must have been quite a few closeted ones.  And since I liked girls, and wanted desperately for them to like me back (and not just as a friend), I did not want to be suspected of being one of those closeted gays who we all knew must be around, somewhere.

The relevant change is as much about my environment as it is my own maturity.  Today, my social circles are unlikely to contain closeted gays because they contain open gays; in my little liberal bubble, hiding one’s homosexuality is regarded as about as reasonable as hiding one’s left-handedness.  Because gay men are much less likely to hide their sexual orientation, straight men no longer have to worry about being suspected of being gay.  If we were gay, we would just say so.  The hilarious Seinfeld clip below wouldn’t make much sense in 2014.  Two gay men living in Manhattan are in the closet?  An implausible premise, even for a sit-com.

Nearly two years ago, in response to major political victories for LGBT equality in the US, sex columnist Dan Savage wrote a post entitled “Thank a Breeder Day” in which he thanked straight people for their help in the struggle for equality.  He also insists that it was the LGBT community that built this movement that has made so much progress lately.  For building that movement, I’d like to say thanks to the gays.  I know you didn’t do it for us “breeders,” but it has benefited us immensely, if more subtly.  Because of the movement you built, I am free to decorate my apartment as I please, free to have close platonic friendships with women and gay men, free to sit in whatever way feels most comfortable (even when this means crossing my legs), free to substitute a side salad for French fries, free to say that I did so because the fries make me fat, free to acknowledge it when a man is handsome or fit, free to admit that part of what I like about sports (and mosh pits) is the physical contact with other men, free to talk about my feelings and my sexuality without the need to conform to some hetero-normative ideal of what a man should be (thus greatly enhancing my relationships with both women and men), free to cry.  I don’t think the metro-sexual could have existed as an accepted cultural concept/personality type before the recent progress in the struggle for LGBT equality.

Hyper-masculinity is dangerous.  Dangerous for society, and dangerous for those who are forced to conform to it.  It’s limiting.  It’s part of the reason men are seen as “simple” compared to women, who are allowed to be more emotionally complex.  I want more from my sexual relationships than “feed me, fuck me, shut the fuck up,” and it’s of great benefit to both myself and my partners that I don’t have to pretend that I don’t have complex emotional needs.  By acknowledging that there is a wide range of consensual sexual behavior, and by being truly accepting of that entire spectrum, we allow each individual to openly be him or herself.

Yet there are still too many places where men and women, girls and boys, gay and straight, cannot openly be themselves.  For the sake of all of us, I wish the LGBT community continued success in their campaign for the basic human right to just be who they are.  Not just so they can be who they are, but so the rest of us can as well.

An Open Letter to the CCP Concerning Press Freedom in HK

Dear Chinese Communist Party,

I’m not one of those Americans who thinks the way we do things in ‘Murica is always better than the way others do them, but when it comes to propagandizing and controlling its population…well…USA #1!.  Comparing the elegant sophistication of the US authorities to the brutishness of the Chinese is like comparing a samurai sword to a meat cleaver.  US propaganda is so good that many Americans don’t even think of their media as propaganda.  Not so in China, and increasingly not so in HK.  So my advice to my current masters is to be a little more like my former masters (or HK’s former masters).  Try a subtler approach when it comes to HK people.

You see, HK people are not like Mainland Chinese people.  I know, you guys like to think the difference is that they have been conditioned by the British into believing in all this civil liberties crap, but the history is a little more complicated than that.  When HK people were rioting in 1967 and China Commie sympathy was reportedly prevalent in the colony, the British behaved very much like you might have: they locked up journalists and closed down newspapers.  But they quickly realized that this did them more harm than good.  Tony Elliot, the political advisor to HK at the time, stated, “The experience of the last six months has shown that interference with the press produces more violent reactions than anything else.”  HK got freedom of the press because the people fought for it, not because the Brits wanted them to have it.  Press freedom was the lesser of two evils for the British authorities, and I believe it is the lesser of two evils for Big Beijing as well.   You know that anti-subversion law that you’ve been trying to pass for so long?  You know, the one that HK people protest every time you try to pass it?   My advice is to drop it, and control the press in ways that won’t stir up so much animosity.  The more bluntly  you exert control over the HK media, the less useful that control becomes.

The way they do things where I come from is less obvious and therefore more effective.  The rulers of my country are the financial and corporate elite; they control the politicians and they control the media, and they do it mainly by (quietly) giving gifts.  You guys could totally do the same thing; a “free press” and “democracy” make control easier, not harder (I’ll explain the democracy part in another post).  In my country, we have a “polarized political debate” because Republicans and Democrats shout at each other on Fox News and MSNBC.  We have “liberal” newspapers like the New York Times, and “conservative” ones like the Wall Street Journal, but when something is really important to the political elites, as during the lead up to the invasion and occupation of Iraq, everybody falls in line.  Then they go back to shouting at each other over gay rights and abortion, while both sides support the same basic foreign policy and economic agendas.  This “polarized” political climate makes anyone who speaks outside of these bounds look like an extremist, and extremists/dissidents are better ignored than brutalized (compare Amy Goodman/Ai Weiwei).  In the US, the mainstream (note the adjective, meaning not extremist but also meaning constrained by the profit motive) media are controlled through advertising and ownership.  Nothing that’s against the interests of corporate/finance hegemony can be published by the mainstream media in the US, because nearly 100% of advertizers are corporations.  Questioning corporate hegemony is simply not profitable, no conspiracy, no corruption necessary.  I notice that you guys have gotten into this game too, and that you’re pretty good at it in fact.  Unfortunately for you, some people in Taiwan have also noticed your press control prowess.  Again, a more patient approach will get you more of what you want, in the long run.

That article I just linked to is instructive, not because it documents how the CCP influences media outlets around the world by withholding advertising, denying visas for foreign reporters, and rewarding loyal journalists in HK and Taiwan while using China’s economic might to punish disloyal media groups (of course y’all know all about that).  It’s instructive because the institution that wrote it (Freedom House, a “Non-Governmental Organization” financed largely by the US government) would never be so impolite as to turn such analysis against its sponsors.  See how that works?  The US can criticize you, and it looks like an impartial NGO is doing it.  But when you criticize the US in your state controlled newspaper, the propagandistic nature of the criticism is just too obvious to have any effect on people (like those in HK) who grew up with a “free press.”  Speaking through state-controlled media detracts from your message, completely overshadowing the legitimacy of many of your claims.  What you need is an institution with a reputation for objectivity and independence.  There are no such institutions in Mainland China.

The other thing that detracts from your message is your tone.  You see, to those of us with Western sensibilities the way  you write just sounds childish.  So let me give you some advice that I give my students.  Be judicious with your adjectives and adverbs.  Just as the use of “very” tends to weaken whatever it was intended to strengthen, when your propagandists write something like, “China on Friday responded to the United States criticism and irresponsible remarks of its human rights situation by publishing its own report on the US human rights issues,” the sentence is rendered ineffective as propaganda by the word “irresponsible.”  It just makes it too obvious that the reporter is not objectively reporting what the CCP says, but is actually a mouthpiece for the CCP.  This is why the South China Morning Post is a much more useful propaganda tool for you than is the China Daily.  The fact that the SCMP is published in HK, and is at times mildly critical of your policies is precisely what makes it more credible.  Notice that the New York Times was so much more useful to the Bush administration in making its case for the invasion of Iraq than was Fox News, which was too obviously allied with the Republican party to be taken seriously by anyone who was the least bit skeptical in the first place.  To liberal-minded Westerners, the China Daily and Fox News sound exactly equally ridiculous.

A free press in HK can be useful to you, but only if you use a softer touch.  If you want to be able to effectively influence media savvy people all over the world, the legacy of press freedom in HK is your most valuable asset.  Currently HK’s reputation for press freedom is depreciating so quickly that the credibility of its independent papers may reach the level of the China Daily or Xinhua.  Once lost, it will be nearly impossible to restore.  So use your financial muscle to encourage self-censorship, but be patient.  Use the carrot, avoid the stick.  Eventually, you’ll find that journalists have subconsciously adopted your frames to the point that they don’t even think of it as self-censoring, and the public won’t either.  But if you’re too eager to take control of HK, you risk destroying the very institutions you wish to control.

In exchange for what really is my bestest most honest advice to you, all I ask for in return is a better CCP troll.  I don’t want to sound ungrateful.  Kayo and I were flattered that our lowly blog had enticed a seemingly enthusiastic Commie troll to comment on our posts about attitudes toward Cantonese as a language!  But that guy was a bit of an amateur.  No offense.  With his emotionally charged anti-Cantonese bigotry, he did such a good job of making himself look foolish, I felt like there was nothing left for me to do!  So if we could have a slightly more culturally sensitive troll, that would be super duper awesome  (for all involved parties) 🙂 🙂 Promise we won’t censor 😉

-W

Ain’t nothing logical about yellow fever…it’s BIO-logical.

My yellow fever wasn’t a choice.  I was born this way.

But I didn’t start out this way.  I used to date white women, be attracted to white women.  So far as I knew, I didn’t have any real racial sexual preference.  But 5 years ago I started dating an Asian-American woman, then I moved to Hong Kong.  By the end of the first year here, I found myself very rarely attracted to non-East Asian women.  So how did this happen?  And why do I say I was born this way when I didn’t manifest any yellow fever symptoms until my 30s?

My sexual orientation hasn’t changed since moving to Hong Kong.  What has changed is my environment.  As a straight man, I’ve always been attracted to neoteny.  East Asians have more of it than anyone else, and now I’m surrounded by East Asians.

Neoteny is “the retention by adults of traits previously seen only in the young.”  Neoteny has been a major driving force in human evolution, so much so that it’s fair to say that humans are basically neotenized chimps.  The list of neotenic traits in humans includes, “flattened face, broadened face,large brain, hairless body, hairless face, small nose, reduction of brow ridge, small teeth, small upper jaw, small lower jaw, thinness of skull bones, limbs proportionately short compared to torso length, longer leg than arm length, larger eyes, and upright stance.”  This list can describe the difference between humans and chimps, the difference between women and men, or the difference between East Asians and other humans.  East Asians are hyper-human, East Asian women (and Betty Boop) are hyper-feminine, and it’s all about neoteny.  chimps100px-Betty_Boop_patent_fig2

Who we find attractive is conditioned by who (and what images) we are surrounded by; this is known as the contrast effect.  The contrast effect is likely responsible for the high divorce rate among secondary school teachers and college professors.  Kanazawa and Still hypothesize that male college professors have a high divorce rate (and tend to stay unmarried) because they are subconsciously affected by being surrounded by women at the peak of their fertility.  Heterosexual men are programmed to choose the most fertile and otherwise high-quality mate they can find, and when their environment consists of a disproportionate number of young women, they will subconsciously downgrade the attractiveness of older women.  (This is why it’s probably a good idea for men to reduce their exposure to media images of impossibly attractive women.)  I think a similar phenomenon occurs with white men in Asia, which explains why so many of us become less attracted to white women when we move here.  It’s not that living in Asia has caused me to be unattracted to all white women, but there is something about being surrounded by women with that neotenous East Asian bone structure that makes the average white woman’s face appear more masculine to me than it did when I lived in the US.   What this means is that for the most part, the white women I’m attracted to are out of my league, but the Asian women I’m attracted to are closer to the mean, and therefore more likely to like me back.

So far as I can tell, my yellow fever primarily affects my limbic system (the more primitive, or “reptilian brain”), leaving my neocortex relatively unscathed.  In other words, it strongly influences who I find sexually attractive, but not who I find intellectually, culturally or emotionally appealing (when we say men are thinking with their penises, we really mean they are thinking with their limbic systems, rather than their cortexes).  The limbic system has a powerful impact on motivation, but it’s not subject to a great deal of conscious introspection.

This is all terribly unfortunate for me, and that’s the illogical part.  My genes programmed me to maximize my inclusive fitness, not to maximize my happiness.  I’d almost surely be happier with a partner who is more similar to me, something a gay friend of mine finds hilariously ironic.  But alas, I was never attracted to men, and now I’m not attracted to white women unless they’re way too hot for me.  Though I find neoteny physically attractive, I’m not a big fan of it as a cultural phenomenon, and cultural neoteny is much more prevalent in East Asia than elsewhere.  I don’t know if biological neoteny plays a role in Japan’s Kawaii culture, or East Asian adult’s disproportionate love of Disney and Hello Kitty, but it’s possible there may be some gene/culture coevolution going on here.  I guess I should learn to embrace the cultural cuteness of East Asia.  In China, even the bears are cute.  Maybe that’s why Hong Kong is so safe?

The Korean says that those of us who suffer from yellow fever are just racist, and he says the same thing about Asian women who are predominantly/exclusively attracted to white men.  It’s arguments like his that made me hesitant to post this; I certainly don’t want to be labelled a racist, or worse, a pedophile.  So let me be clear, I’m not into the infantilized China doll look.  I’m not into girls.  I’m into women.  I just prefer certain facial features that are indicators of youth (which is a proxy for fertility).  What it feels like is an infatuation with a particular facial bone structure.

If I could choose who I was attracted to, I might make a different choice, or at least a more inclusive one.  But this is the curse of the 21st century 30-something straight male (it’s just particularly acute for culturally Western men in Asia with yellow fever).  We’re surrounded by media images that make us less happy, if only slightly and subconsciously, with the women we’re with.  I guess we should just grow up, and stay away from the likes of Natalie Portman, Scarlett Johansson, or Zhang Ziyi.

imgres

The one saving grace of yellow fever is that many Asian women who I think are beautiful do seem to like me back, and some of them are culturally and intellectually appealing to me as well.  Since I’m not an Asian woman, I’m not going to try to explain why some Asian women prefer white men, but my fellow blogger here is quite qualified to comment on that phenomenon, since she’s one of the data points in it, just as I am in the yellow fever dataset.  I’ll leave that to her.

Zombie Week

In HK, the Chinese New Year holiday is over, but in the Mainland it continues for at least the rest of the week. This means that my nice quiet island is still overrun with Mainland Zombies, even though its residents have returned to work. The main pedestrian arteries are clogged with peripherally challenged, personal spatially unaware MZs whose interaction with the world is mediated through the lenses and screens of their smartphones, unless of course one hand is occupied running into feet with a trolley while the other is busy poking faces with a rain-or-shine umbrella, necessitating pocketing of the phone/camera and frequent abrupt stops to take it out. The way they move really is classically zombiesque: a la the kind that spontaneously form a slow-moving herd, each member with eyes averted, facing every direction except the direction the MZ is tottering in (not to be mistaken for the fast, purposive kind Will Smith or Brad Pitt have had to contend with in recent years).

This week, if I’m gonna get to the ferry pier on time and not decapitate any MZs (oddly, this remains illegal in HK, despite widespread public support), I need to leave about 5 minutes earlier than usual. Also, if I’m going to sit anywhere visible from the main road, particularly with a dog, I’m gonna be in a lot of photos. (I saw a white man with a dog apparently makes for an incredible story back in the Mainland, and it requires photographic corroboration.) As I sit and eat my breakfast, periodically projecting my WTF-face onto touch screens, all I really want is some sign of embarrassment for their disturbance and objectification of my daily routine, some expressive evidence of fully-functional mirror neurons, some acknowledgement of our shared humanity. I think I’d have about the same luck with actual zombies.

Dialect Dialectic

I thank Kayo for her explication of dialect with a Democratic Spirit worthy of a truly Socratic Dialectic.

What I’ve learned from her, and conversations with others, is that even thoughtful Chinese people have unwittingly accepted very authoritarian definitions of language and dialect: only officially recognized languages are language, and everything else is dialect.  When one says Cantonese is not a language, it’s a dialect, what one is implicitly agreeing to is that Cantonese is inferior.

Honestly, I already knew that this dialect/language distinction was essentially a denigration of all Chinese languages not Mandarin.  This is precisely why I was so distressed to hear postmodernized, Westernized Mandarin speakers like Kayo agree to it, and why I was even more distressed, yet driven to understand, when Hongkie friends of mine, particularly ones who I know are no lovers of Beijing, said things like, “I think I agree that Cantonese is a dialect, at least in the linguistic sense.”  This is from a guy who didn’t need anyone to tell him that “that Standardisation of Chinese is artificial and political.” Still, he had accepted Beijing’s definition of language.  At this point, many of these people have come around to my position, particularly to the meaning of these English words and how they should refer to Chinese languages.  So now I’d like to make a case for the importance of this distinction.

By allowing their language to be denigrated simply because it is not recognized by a sovereign authority, Hong Kong people implicitly give power to Big Beijing.  Beijing controls all language, all Hong Kong people have a say in is dialect.  And that means that things said in dialect are less serious, less official, less political, than things said in language.  The effect is to lower the status and seriousness of discourse in Cantonese, and to elevate discourse written or spoken in the language that Beijing controls.

Big Beijing’s attempt to control the language available for serious discourse among educated adults may be the most truly Orwellian aspect of the 21st Century Chinese state. Sure, Beijing spies on it’s citizens through the 21st century equivalent of Orwell’s telescreens, but the US government makes Beijing look like a bunch of amateurs in this regard.  Sure, it censors political speech using the same techniques favored by the repressive regimes of Orwell’s time.  What no government has been able to do to the extent that Beijing has, is control language.  But this is true only if people accept Beijing’s definition of language, and its denigration of what it calls dialect.

What was so revolutionary about the Luther Bible was that it was written not in Latin but in German, a language not controlled by the Big Brother of 16th Century Europe, the Roman Catholic Church.  It’s democratizing effect allowed ordinary people to read the Bible, but it may also have contributed to the formation of the Modern High German Language, and so also to German identity and eventual German Nationalism.  Language is political, and it’s more politically potent when it’s legitimized.  Elevating the status of ordinary people’s vernacular elevates the discourse of ordinary people up to the level of political elites.  A contemporary of Luther’s noted that,  “in a few months [after publication of the Luther Bible] such people deemed themselves so learned that they were not ashamed to dispute about faith and the gospel not only with Catholic laymen, but even with priests and monks and doctors of divinity.”  By giving the language of the common people new status, Luther empowered the common people to talk back to the authorities, to take their language outside of their homes and marketplaces and into the political arena.

Bottom line: Big Beijing, like Big Brother, cannot actually control the way ordinary Chinese people talk, not in the Mainland, and certainly not in HK.  Even so, it can control language by controlling which languages get called languages, and therefore reducing the languages it cannot control to nothing more than the uninformed ramblings of common folk…if Cantonese speakers accept it.  But there is reason to believe that they do not accept it, as evidenced by simultaneous protests in Guangdong and HK over Big Beijing’s attempts to enforce its newspeak on Cantonese speakers.

HK Canto has always struck me as a very democratic language: constantly played with and augmented by the kids on the street, slangy and prescriptive grammatical-rule breaking.  By preserving their language, HK people disallow a  potential avenue for Beijing’s influence on thought and culture, and many are very aware of this, implicitly or explicitly.  But it will be harder to preserve a dialect than a language.  So why not call it what it is, if you value it?

So that’s why I think this semantic issue is important.  I’ll have to hold off on how or why it’s seemingly so simple for authorities to convince people of the lower status of their own language, discourse, and culture.  My thoughts are already quite different from what I had originally planned to write, and the dialectic I’m involved in hasn’t finished teaching me yet.