The State of Asia


It is a little known fact that all major rivers in China flow from the west to the east and just like the rivers power is used to flowing the same way. Over thousands of years, what China did had a massive effect on its neighbours. While the culture of ancient China contributed heavily to the cultural foundations of Korea, Japan and others, it is not to say that these nations have always bowed to the Chinese will. In fact, they have a track record of being enormously obstinate, which is probably for the better.

            Anyone who thought that China could become democratic in our lifetime was clearly out of their mind. The only paper democracies in the region had to be groomed under a close supervision from the United States and yet the results are not what they should be. Thinking that China could successfully turn itself into a democracy was nothing but day-dreaming. Even before the latest move to install Xi Jinping as the latest in the long line of emperors and strong leaders, I would not have dared to estimate the collapse of the regime at no less than fifty years, even that seems far-fetched now. Let’s not make the mistake of making presumptions based on our own cultural lenses and apply them onto a radically different environment. We are democratic, because the very ideals of such system were present already in our ancient history. There are no such seeds of democracy in China’s past.

It is obvious that Xi Jinping’s bid for Mao Zedong-like power is well in line with the game China has been playing in recent years. First came the maritime expansion in the South China Sea that is, in essence, turning harmless coves in the ocean into Chinese military bases which conveniently give China control over major shipping routes. Second, the Chinese power expansion comes hand in hand with financial investment abroad, most notably in poor countries rich with natural resources in exchange for the resources that China is in dire need of. Yes, China has been quietly building its economic empire for years and now, finally, the empire has its official panda-face ruler.

What about the others? Surely China’s neighbours cannot be oblivious to the game. Some have joined China’s team in hopes of mouthwatering profits. The clearest example of that is Philippines where President Duterte, in spite of is loudmouth politics, is turning the country right towards alignment with China. From his point of view, it is the only logical move. The US have lost interest in the Philippines and other East Asian countries have been looking down on the country for decades. Other than Philippines, one may also want to mention Vietnam. Although there have been reported signs of discord between the two Communist comrades recently, primarily over the territory in the South China Sea, Vietnam is clearly following in China’s footsteps. China has been pushing for tight censorship and cracking down on dissent since about last year and Vietnam did not waste time to follow suit shortly after. On the surface, it might look as if the couple is having problems, but it is likely just Vietnam soothing its hurt pride and the two are in it for the long ride.

On the other hand, there are those who stand in open defiance to China. Taiwan, Korea and Japan do not like to be pushed around and none of them abound with love for the mainland’s regime. However, there is little to be optimistic about, because Taiwan has been losing the PR battle against China for some time. As a nation that is not recognized as an independent country by the majority of the world, it is critical that it sustains a growing number of countries who do recognize it and that is all about money. Money that Taiwan does not have and guess who does.

With the US stepping back, China’s stepping forward, Korean political turmoil and Japanese enormous public debt boosted by flailing economy, the outlook for Asia seems bleak, but we must not lose hope. China may be a tiger the size of an elephant, but it has been puffed up by steroids. Its knees are weak, bones fragile and fangs wooden. It needs the other tigers in the region to have its back and run in a pack. Our task and duty is to prevent that. Let’s lock in China’s neighbours and offer a more tasty treat. If we manage to replace American withering influence with European economic might and safely tie Asian markets to ours, China will have no choice but peace and perhaps greater integration to a network where we have the upper hand. Doing nothing is not an option.


Why did we fail to export democracy to the world ?


The story of exporting democracy is like having the Spotify app stuck on repeat. The same songs keep coming back over and over. Sadly, they are not songs that most people would enjoy, but songs made by the likes of Yoko Ono. The solution to the Spotify problem is easy, but how do we stop making the same mistakes in our democracy-exporting efforts?

First, let me introduce a terminus technicus. If you attend some of the wild parties attended by philosophy students, you might hear the term ‘intrinsic value’. Those are values that are good in and of themselves as opposed to ‘instrumental values’ that are good, because they facilitate something good. For instance, some might claim that happiness is an intrinsic value, but justice is instrumental since it only leads to more happiness. Others might just justice over happiness.

Now, what am I babbling about? Whenever we, as the western civilizations, approach a new country or a region in the world, we bring our values with us and implementation of these values is supposed to take care of whatever mess is in place at the moment of our arrival. We tend to think that if places as China were just a tiny bit more democratic, its citizens would be much better off. Surely, that sounds like a reasonable statement. Why have we then failed at creating true and functioning democracies around the world?

Perhaps you live under the delusion that we have created such countries, but let me dispel that mirage. We have managed to create regimes that seem stable like South Korea or Japan, however, they are far from the democratic ideal. In both those countries the powers lie within a very powerful elite class that is radically conservative. Electoral power is concentrated in specific regions, party strongholds, and due the low demographic growth and low net migration into these countries, it creates a situation of absolute conservation of conservatives at the top. That hardly sounds like a true and functioning democracy.

At the heart of the problem are the values that we see as pillars of Euro-American type of democracy. Among the things that we consider indispensable to modern liberal democracy are the freedom of expression, justice and equal opportunity. Undoubtedly, these are values worth worshipping, but our mistake is in the fact that we think that these values are intrinsic and therefore universal. By that I mean the fact that whenever we gallop into somebody else’s country we expect that these values will be immediately understood and endorsed. It is beyond our imagination that some might not see justice, for example, as an intrinsic value. At that point we self-righteously declare them wrong and impose that what we consider the best.

These values, albeit indispensable to liberal democracy, are hardly intrinsic. They are simply just instrumental. We know that having a fair justice system and freedom of expression ultimately leads to a better society, but our failure to export democracy is rooted precisely in the failure to comprehend that what we understand as universal logic is not universal at all. In most of Asia, the most important value stemming from history is the happiness of the people as a whole. Hence the heavy focus on the well-being of the community. If you assume that as your first intrinsic value, can you also hold up freedom of expression and justice in equal measure? I think not. It is simply because sometimes it so happens that a stable society is a happy society and stability is best achieved by a strong figure at the center, so the logic goes in Asia. Under such circumstances, freedom of expression is simply redundant and may even seem harmful.

We often ponder what did we do wrong in the Middle East. We tried our best to improve the conditions of the people there, but nearly two decades on, all we have on our hands is enough blood to fill up the lake Como and a string of endless wars. We used the same strategy in the Middle East as we did in Asia decades prior and it is heading towards the same results. Let’s not forget what western ideology based regimes did in Asia. Massacres and famines in the communist-inspired countries and military dictatorships in most of the rest. In the future, we can expect more of the same in the Middle East, but much worse, because this time we are not only conflating values of the society, but also of religions. Until we recognize that our beliefs and values are not universal and that people have the right to organize their own country according to their own values, without being moralized, there will be no peace.

Trump, Europe and the World Peace


It is undeniable that the Trump era is an era of change. The previous administration was keen on maintaining the status quo which could also be called plain old stagnation. Sadly, stagnation on the international scene leads to nothing but slow deterioration, because our world is not the kind of world that can just stop turning. It is unclear whether Trump is a change-maker on account of his abilities or rather his inabilities. At this point, it does not really matter. Last year Trump was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize for pursuing “peace through strength ideology.” I think that “peace” pursuit deserves a second look.

Starting where things seem most hot, North Korea is probably the most obvious success of the Trump diplomacy if we can call it that. People who look at the peninsula and tremble in fear over the vision of nuclear war are wrong and they do not know what they are looking at. No matter how many talking heads show off the diverse variety of concerned looks and prophecy damnation, alas it is not so. If I could I would scream off every rooftop in the world that no South Korean wakes up in the morning concerned about North Korea, I would. North Korea is an insanely impoverished country led by a class of brutal, yet smart elites. Since it is cut of from the world, it has only one tool of diplomacy left. The threats that we see on television are not actual threats. It is just North Korea saying: ‘hey pay attention to us, pretty please.’ Virtually no one in the region wishes a renewal of the conflict and so raising tension is North Korea’s only way of gaining leverage prior to negotiations. The higher tensions, the better bargain. Trump, unwittingly, gave North Korea all it wanted by trying to isolate it, because it allowed them to look like the good guys, sporting colours of peace at the Olympics, and to send Kim Jong Un’s sister to the South for the first time ever. While this success is likely to be just temporary, it is still a success for Trump’s peace effort, even if he did not mean it.

Next on the list of positive outcomes lies the kick in the behind that Europe had needed. Let’s face it people. We have been complacent for a very long time. For at least two decades, we have been lounging in our cushioned chairs, blissfully oblivious to the problems in our backyard, while the mighty U.S.A. was guarding the door. Relative to GDP, United Kingdom’s defence spending has been steadily declining for years and the recent encounters with the Russian navy in the English Channel have shown that Britain is far from ready to face any sort of a serious enemy. That might have been fine as part of the EU, but, despite the NATO membership, the UK must be prepared to defend its interests. Moreover, other countries in the EU have now started to realize that they cannot do away with military altogether and the plans for joint military organization within the EU seem to have been resurrected. Calling Europeans free-riders, dependent on American help, was surely not pleasant or very diplomatic, yet it was precisely that what has led to stronger Europe and thus a more peaceful world, which all can be accounted to Trump.

Overall, it is a good thing that Trump did not receive the Nobel Peace Prize, because his contributions to world peace are far outweighed by the contributions to current conflicts. Trump likes to play dirty, although in secret. It is a little known fact that by 13 July 2017, as the Independent reported, the US air strikes had killed more than 2’200 civilians in Syria, which is about as many as the total number of civilians killed under the entire Obama presidency. We may be beating ISIS, but at what cost. I doubt that the people who’s family members have died through no fault of their own will forgive and forget. Even if the coalition annihilates every last member of ISIS, we will still be left with a backyard full of people who hate us as much as they hated them. The world is still turning under Trump and it seems to be turning towards a more pluralist world where not one but multiple giants struggle for or co-operate in global governance. I chose to see that as a good thing, but we are walking on thin ice. With every step back, China and Russia step two steps forward. Unless we want Beijing and Moscow to be the new shining cities on the hill, we would do well to act before it is too late.

The Myth of Virtuous Transparency


In today’s day and age, it is increasingly common to share all that we do with all who know us. It is customary to post pictures of our holidays, vent our anger over bad service or simply to brag about one’s food on social media. People simply love to share even when others can’t take it anymore, because why, God, why do I need to see the millionth picture of your fancy lasagna. This culture of instant and constant sharing of everything and anything has brought a number of problems. For example, you can no longer brag about your day off while pretending you are sick at work, since your boss may see it now. Sure, some have tried it anyway, but in general one can look forward to a more permanent time off shortly afterwards. The far more important negative aspect of our sharing culture is the demand or the perceived right of citizens to an absolute transparency from the government.

This transparency myth is hardly righteous or possible in practice. Surely we can agree that clandestine operations of the secret service cannot be made public as long as we actually mean to catch terrorists. Therefore, there is at least one area of governmental business where total transparency is undesirable. Moreover, let’s not forget that the world economy is not some kind of a machine which functions regardless of what is happening and nor it acts as one unit governed by one reason and of one mind. The sum of markets is made up by millions of individuals, all of whom act according to their own interests and emotional reactions. Information is as good as gold in this business and maybe even better, because it can actually make you gold. From 2006 to 2009 the majestic HSBC bank was laundering money for the drug cartels and people associated with funding Taliban and yet the UK regulators allegedly begged the US authorities not to indict the bank, because it would be a huge risk for the world economy. Full transparency, then, can lead to disastrous results regardless of whether it is morally right or wrong.

Most recently, it has been the debate around Brexit that has brought the issue of transparency back to light. It has been asserted that the EU has chosen to follow a more transparent path in pursuing the Brexit negotiations, while Theresa May refused to provide a ‘running commentary’. The want to know is surely understandable, however, it is not rational or necessary. It is no secret that Britain can and should expect an economic downturn of some sorts immediately after exiting the EU, but we must keep in mind that more than anything else the value of the pound and the state of the economy depend on the trust of investors. The government may reach an exquisite deal, but without the public trusting it, it may result in a disaster anyway. The EU is more comfortable with sharing, because it has little to lose and a lot to gain. It is bound by the principle of not allowing a non-member to have the upper hand in trading with the continent, which would make the membership unprofitable. It is fundamental to the preservation of the union that the EU does not lose at negotiations. However we look at it, there are only two possible outcomes. It will be either a win-win or win-lose where Britain will be the losing side.

Personally, I would prefer Britain to win, but it is crucial to see that Britain cannot and will not defeat the union. The basis for the negotiations is damage control rather than anything else. We must negotiate the least damaging way to leave the EU in order to free ourselves up to focus on the rest of the world. The deeper hole we dig for ourselves before we actually leave, the harder it will be and the longer it will take to climb back up to sustainable growth. The impact of Brexit on the economy will be bad. The question is how bad. In this situation, every leaked memo, every disgruntled comment and every cheap political jab makes us worse off, because it piles upon the uncertainty of investors and undermines the faith in what Britain can do. Nothing like Brexit has ever been achieved, so that faith in Britain’s abilities is something we cannot afford to sacrifice on the altar of full transparency.

Breaking with the status quo on Jerusalem


It is beyond doubt that the decision on Jerusalem constitutes a solid installment of the currently hottest show on the planet. The wannabe majestic Trump saga is filling great multitudes of screens everywhere and at all times. We watch it. We read it. We muse about it. Perhaps the reason why we cannot resist it is that it all seems so real and present. Every day feels like it is the new low. With every word the world turns a bit more backwards and with every tweet we seem to be one misspelled word closer to a total annihilation of our great species. In the midst of all that madness, I cannot but scratch my head in utter stupefaction. Is it all really as horrendous as our feverish nightmares make it seem?

The perceived reality of the nuclear button that has been pounded into our heads by an incessant stream of movies, where the American president overcomes all adversities and fulfills his salvific purpose with a stern look in his face, is surely scary. Just as there is no actual button except the one that calls in a guy with a diet Coke (surely a must-have item), there is no real diplomatic progression towards peace in the Middle East. The peace is dead and no matter how badly the United States want to play the saviour, there will be no resurrection, unless things change dramatically.

American peace effort in the Middle East has always been a lopsided sham. How can you claim the position of an arbiter, if you are not so secretly propping up one of the parties at the table? From the day of its foundation, modern Israel has been taking matters in its own hands, without any regard for anybody else and, fulfilling its moral duty, the United States of America has politely nodded along. However, rest assured that it is not my intention to diminish the importance of the historic Oslo Accords from 1993 or paint Israel in dark colours. The Oslo Accords were the pinnacle of what a foreign arbiter with a serious bias to one of the two negotiating parties can possibly achieve.

Nevertheless, moving past Oslo, Israel quickly defaulted on key parts of the Accords and the beacon of hope, the famed shining city on the hill has done nothing. That is not to say that the Palestinians are free from blame, because there is truly no one the Middle East who could claim that their hands are perfectly clean. However, it remains a simple fact that the territory that should long have been in Palestinian hands, as it had been agreed, is still fully or at least partially controlled by Israel. It is also a fact that not only Israel has not stopped building further settlements in the West Bank, but more are being built as we speak.

The problem of Jerusalem is unsolvable. It is a holy city of three major world religions and all peoples living there have unbreakable bonds to the place as well as irreparable enmities between one another. If you have been racking your brains trying to figure out how to solve Jerusalem, you should stop. The only way to solve Jerusalem is for all parties to give up. I am sure that it sounds outrageous, but it is as simple as that. The only sustainable future for Jerusalem is a neutral enclave claimed by none and occupied by no one. Sadly, looking at the historical records of all involved parties, I think it is safe to assume that such proposal has absolutely no chance to survive.

The quintessentially Trumpian decision to meddle in the matter is surely a grave mistake, but it is certainly not a step back, because there is nowhere we could step back to. Jerusalem was never “on the table” and all that is being jeopardized by this move is, in fact, only the recurring role of the United States proudly starring as the wise arbiter and saviour. Neither it is a step forward, because all we have been doing since 1993 is walking in the circle of maintaining the status quo. Just as this move by the Trump administration plays nicely as part of the Trump epic, it is also a fitting sequel to the magnificent farce that we call the peace process.

Hedonism and the Experience Machine


You may or may not have encountered the philosophy of Hedonism and the major counter-argument against it. I will dare to venture my own summary, in case that you have never heard of either, followed by a humble challenge to the experience machine theory.

In a nutshell, Hedonism is based on the view that the only thing that is intrinsically valuable is happiness (= pleasure) and unhappiness (= pain) is the only intrinsically bad thing. On the other side of the argument stands the theory of the experience machine brought about by Robert Nozick. Imagine a machine that is capable of providing us with the most pleasurable experiences for the duration of two years without any memory of being outside of the machine. After the two years one would get out of the tank and select new experiences. This experiment was designed to demonstrate that the artificial experiences are not as desirable as actually doing the things that are experienced. In support of the this experiment Nozick forwards three basic reasons for why we might not want to hop in the tank and plug in right away. Firstly, we would not want to plug in, because we want to actually do things, not just experience them. Secondly, we should not plug in, because we want to be a certain way, i.e. we want to be a “self”, not just an indeterminate blob. Thirdly, we ought not to plug in, because the machine limits us to a man-made reality and we want a contact to a deeper reality. Thus, we desire to live ourselves and in contact with reality.

The experience machine does not disapprove Hedonism. My effort will now aim at presenting two ways Hedonism can throw a wrench in the experience machine. Hedonism never forgets to emphasize that living a good life is experiencing the greatest pleasure/happiness in the skin of the one who lives it. The conclusion that the life in an experience machine is inferior to real life is based on an experience of an outsider who has the perspective necessary for making such judgment. Being in the skin of the one who experiences, we would have no such external framework since, as the scenario itself points out, we would have no memories. Our entire sense of identity and personality is established through memories. Without memories we are no one. The research in psychology has yet to conclusively prove an existence of any innate personality and even if it does manage to prove it, the ingrained basic personality traits would not be enough to allow us to cast judgment on the nature of our being and our satisfaction or dissatisfaction with it. If the person in the machine has no memory of the time outside the machine then this person cannot judge the difference between experiencing and doing or between this state of “self” or another. The only way the person could recognize that what is being experienced is not the reality is somewhat emotionally through the lack of some sense of deeper reality as Nozick puts it. This would, however, require an objective reality of the divine that pulls us towards itself in order to feel the lack of it in ourselves. Unless we wish to affirm the objective reality of a divine subject, we cannot accept the argument. To sum up, the arguments of human need for doing and having a “self” and connecting to some deeper reality are unsound due to the simple fact that the person in the tank would be lacking the memories needed to make such judgments. To that person, the experience is perfectly real since that is all that there is and all that there has ever been.

The second argument by which we could counterattack the experience machine is the same argument that was used against the false happiness challenge to Hedonism. It has been stated that if we have two women leading equally happy lives believing that their husbands are faithful to them, but only one of them is right in here belief, the other one is experiencing false happiness. The critics of Hedonism would suggest that the happiness of this falsely happy women is lesser than the happiness of the rightly happy woman. This, however, is again an argument from the position of knowledge and an outside perspective. It is surely logical to assume that something we have no idea about cannot make us unhappy. In fact, both women are experiencing equal amount of happiness, regardless of the objective truth. Therefore, even if we are to accept that the happiness provided by the experience machine is lesser in some respect, the argument itself poses no threat to the essence of Hedonism. Since the person in the tank is, in fact, in the tank and lacking all memories of the previous life, the person is experiencing the same false happiness as the falsely happy woman in the previous scenario. Objectively, their situation is inferior, but the path to a good life, according to Hedonism, is not governed by an objective reality, but a subjective experience.

Nozick’s theory is surely magnificent, but it is suffering from misunderstanding the real nature of Hedonism. The truth is that Hedonism does not have the answer for universal happiness, perfect justice or anything beyond the frontiers of our egos. However, its default position is surely nothing if not pragmatic. Leading a good life is a matter of our subjective realities, not a universal morality. Is that a perfectly acceptable moral argument? Probably not, but again, that is what it is all about.


Co znamená výsledek Moore vs Jones


Minulé úterý jsme byli svědky vyvrcholení několika měsíců hádek a osočování v centru Republikánského jihu USA. Jednalo se o speciální volby o místo senátora za stát Alabama a proti sobě stáli dva kandidáti, každý se svým šarmem.

Na straně Republikánů stál Roy Moore, který doposud vedl velmi barvitou kariéru. Mezi jeho “úspěchy” můžeme jistě počítat to, že byl dvakrát zbaven svého místa soudce nejvyššího soudu Alabamy (v USA jsou tyto pozice volené stejně jako místa v Kongresu) a jeho dalšími “cnostmi” byly mnohé homofobní, trasnfobní, anti-semitické,  islamofobní a rasistické výroky. To by ale pro silně nábožensky motivované voličstvo nebyl takový problém, jenže proti němu stál někdo daleko horší. Demokrat. Se svou kariérou jako federální státní zástupce, který pracoval na mnoha rasově motivovaných zločinech, volit Douga Jonese by bylo prostě hanba v myslích mnoha cnostných Alabamanů.

Co nakonec pohnulo Alabamou byly další barvité a skandální obvinění ze sexuálního obtěžování mladých dívek v sedmdesátých letech. Nejhorší obvinění ze všech bylo od dívky, které v té době bylo pouhých 14 let a Roy Moorovi teprve přes 3O. Ničemu nepomohlo, že si svou nynější manželku vytipoval při školním představení (pričemž nebylo vlastně nikdy vyjasněno proč u toho představení vlastně byl), když jí bylo pouhých 16 let. Jak jsme ale slyšeli, Doug Jones je prostě Demokrat a přes to nejede vlak.

Do posledních momentů nebylo jasné kdo vlastně vyhraje a Republikánská strana se nejprve distancovala od Moorovy kapaně, ale nakonec stejně nutné peníze poskytla, přes odpor několika prominentních členů jako lídr Republikánské většiny v Senátu Mitch McConnell. Demokrat Doug Jones nakonec dokázal vyhrát se svou nečekaně velkou většinou (49.9% vs 48.4%). Problém ale pro Republikány zůstává.

Již nekolik měsíců se Republikánská strana zmítá v mytickém zápasu Titánů se sebou samou. Přestože v USA momentálně vládne Republikánský prezident a strana kontroluje obě komory Konresu, zatím (po deseti měsících) neprošel jediný významný zákon, protože radikální libertarianské křídlo se neshodne s umírněným křídlem a Prezident má svůj vlastní handicap, jímž je jeho vlastní neschopnost. Kongres právě stojí před důlžitým finálním hlasováním o novém daňovém zákoně, který povede (jako už tradičně) ke snižování daní a masivní explozi deficitu. Nesmíme zapomínat, že ačkoliv zvyšování deficitu nezní velmi konzervativně, je to pouhý první krok Republikánského plánu. Nejdříve se musí deficit zvýšit, aby se mohly škrtnout sociální dávky a takové nepotřebné věci jako školství a zdravotnictví, čímž se deficit zase sníží a všechno bude jak má být. Odpor voličů samozrejmě povede ke zvolení Demokratů, kteří daně zase zvednou, což je vždy velmi nepopulární, a po pár letech prosperity a nechutných regulačních přehmatech Demokratů bude zase čas na tolik potřebné Republikánské škrty.

Problémem v této Republikánské idilce je že přítomnost neschopnosti pana Prezidenta Trumpa a jeho obecné nepopularitě potápí Republikánskou loď mnohem rychleji než by bylo třeba. Nový daňový zákon je už tak pohý jeden hlas od neschválení a nový Demokratický senátor Jones určitě ničemu nepomůže. Je třeba říci, že od svého zvolení Prezident Trump podpořil několik kandidátů na různá místa v Kongresu a všichni své volby prohráli. Republikánská strana si tedy může pouze vybrat ze tří možností. Mohou dále předstírat, že vše je jak má být a podporovat všechny lži které plynou z Bílého Domu, nebo se mohou od Prezidenta distancovat a rovnou přijít o aspoň 30% voličstva, nebo mohou pokračovat jako rozštěpená strana neschopná své legislativní práce. V každém případě volby Moore vs Jones ukázaly, že každá z těchto možností má více než dost potenciálu potopit celou stranu v kritických volbách příští rok. Pokud Demokraté znovu ovládnou obě komory Kongresu v roce 2018 tak určitě nebudou váhat s odsrtaněním všeho co Trump “dokázal” za poslední rok a jistě také uvidíme rychlý pokus o jeho odstranění z funkce. V cestě jim stojí, již tradičně, pouze jejich vlastní neschopnost (která sahá výše než slavný Washingtonský monument).