Zheng Yongnian (郑永年) on How to Address Western Public Opinion on China: Facts, Science and Reason

[from Pekingology at the Center for China and Globalization (CCG)]

“Be open, open, and more open,” especially to businesses, investors, media, universities, and research institutions. And tit-for-tat doesn’t work, the professor says.

by Zichen Wang, Shuyuan Han, and Li Huiyan

Professor Zheng Yongnian (郑永年), the Founding Director of the Institute for International Affairs at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, Shenzhen, on January 28 published an article on how China should address Western public opinion on China. His advice is in the last part of the article, and below is a translation.

(Emphasis by Pekingnology.)

First, we need to understand how such narratives are formed. Historically, China held a bias due to its self-isolation and limited knowledge of the West. Despite losing the two Opium Wars, Chinese intellectuals at that time still saw Westerners as uncivilized. It was not until China was defeated by Japan, a neighboring country once considered as China’s student, that they realized their ignorance and a need for reform. Before China’s Reform and Opening up, Chinese people barely knew anything about the West. They always assumed Westerners were in deep distress, repeating the same lack of understanding of the West.

Similarly, the West’s uncertainty and fear towards China’s rise stem from a lack of understanding and even fear of the country, and their ingrained ideology would lead to misconceptions.

China is the world’s second-largest economy. The externalities and influence of its economy on the West are obvious. Upon joining the WTO, some Chinese people also felt unsettled by the externalities of the West. Some said, “the wolf is coming.” Now it is the West that is experiencing such worries.

It is crucial to recognize the significant impact of the Western hypocritical narratives against China, even if they are based on ideology rather than facts. We must also acknowledge that ideology-based public opinion from the West can exert a powerful influence on their policies toward China.

Historically, the West tended to demonize others while presenting themselves as morally superior, which enabled them to apply Social Darwinism to international politics easily and thus legitimizing conflicts and even wars with other nations. Given the Soviet Union’s failure in the ideological arena during the Cold War, we should by no means ignore any ideology-based public opinion toward China from the West.

Second, to make rational responses to the Western ideology-based criticisms, we should draw lessons from the history of the world economy, such as the lessons of the Soviet Union, as well as our practices, such as the rhetorical battle with the West in the past few years. Coming up with an externally-facing public opinion based on a different ideology is not the most effective in addressing public opinion attacks based on an ideology. Empirically, tit-for-tat is ineffective and can worsen the situation. Again, the failure of the Soviet Union is a prime example, as its battle with a Western ideology failed. When faced with China-demonizing based on ideology from the West, we need to do the simplest thing, namely resorting to facts, science, and reason.

Third, and most importantly, China needs to prioritize its sustainable development, which ultimately benefits the country itself. It is important to recognize that the foundation of the government’s governance lies in its citizens, not Western praise. The support from its people is crucial for both the nation’s longevity and stability., China’s sustainable development also benefits the world economy by boosting its growth. As mentioned above, China has been the largest contributor to the growth of the world economy since it joined the WTO.

It is crucial to prioritize the building of a knowledge system based on China’s practical experiences. Regarding global soft power, we need a knowledge system based on our experiences rather than a certain ideology. While there has been a proposal for an autonomous knowledge system, continuous effort is still required.

Fourth, given the substantial externalities of our economy, we must further communicate and coordinate with other countries on economic policies, regardless of their respective sizes. Our duty is to fulfill the responsibility as a major player in the international community, which also benefits China.

After the 1997-1998 Asian financial crisis, China promised not to devalue its currency, and that commitment became an international public good in Asia. Similarly, after the global financial crisis from 2007 to 2008, China made similar contributions. As China re-opens its economy after the pandemic, it is important not only to take note of the hypocritical comments from certain quarters in the Western world but also to recognize the positive evaluations and high expectations from many international organizations.

Fifth, we must be open, open, and more open. Despite China’s efforts, there remains a persistent ideological camp in the West that views China through an ideological lens, a situation made worse by the past three years of the pandemic. The pandemic was so severe that it hindered travel across borders; as a result, some Western media and scholars tend to assess China through ideology since they couldn’t come here to see the facts with their own eyes.

The assessment of China through a uniform ideological lens appears to have strengthened the original Western ideological camp. However, the United States and the West have more than one ideology, and not all people believe in the prevailing ideology in the public opinion sphere. China’s openness provides a “seeing is believing” opportunity for different groups in the West. China should increase its openness to Western groups, including businesses, investors, media, universities, and research institutions. The changes in their understanding could render those ideological-based public opinions less effective.

Songs as Another Kind of Parallel University

Meta Intelligence is a heterodox view of education where formal education (courses, diplomas, universities, fields) are incomplete and limited without adding informal education which is part of your life such as movies, songs, conversations and images (paintings, posters, etc). Your “lifeworld” (Edmund Husserl’s apt coinage) fuses all the kinds of education where the word education means thought-provoking and illuminating. Even personal experience counts such as illnesses or bad marriages! Only via this Meta Intelligence will you achieve a glimpsed “holism.” (Meta Intelligence is that meta-field outside fields, borders and boundaries.)

Take songs.

Think back to Jim Morrison’s classic tune, “Riders on the Storm” which begins:

“Riders on the storm
Riders on the storm
Into this house, we’re born
Into this world, we’re thrown
Like a dog without a bone
An actor out on loan
Riders on the storm”

This song (by the Doors), expresses in a simple way Heidegger’s notion of human existence as partly governed by “Geworfenheit” which derives from “werfen,” to throw. “Geworfenheit” means “thrownness.” Jim Morrison and his band the Doors are songphilosophers without (probably) being Heidegger’s acolytes. Max Weber, one of the fathers of modern sociology, uses the word “disenchantment” to describe the modern world, “Entzauberung” in German, where “zauber” means “magicality” and “ent” means “removal of,” and “ung” means “condition of being.” The magic here does not mean something like a card trick but rather sacred mysteries, perhaps like the feeling a medieval European felt on entering a cathedral.

Enchantment in the West survived in our notions of romantic love and was associated with the songs and outlook of the medieval troubadours. Such romantic enchantment which is fading from our culture in favor of sex is still celebrated in the classic Rogers and Hammerstein song, “Some Enchanted Evening” from the forties musical and fifties movie, South Pacific.

The song lyrics give you the philosophy of romantic love as the last stand of enchantment:

“Some enchanted evening, you may see a stranger,
You may see a stranger across a crowded room,
And somehow you know, you know even then,
That somehow you’ll see here again and again.
Some enchanted evening, someone may be laughing,
You may hear her laughing across a crowded room,
And night after night, as strange as it seems,
The sound of her laughter will sing in your dreams.

“Who can explain it, who can tell you why?
Fools give you reasons, wise men never try.

“Some enchanted evening, when you find your true love,
When you hear her call you across a crowded room,
Then fly to her side and make her your own,
Or all through your life you may dream all alone.

“Once you have found her, never let her go,
Once you have found her, never let her go.”

Notice that “chant” is a component of enchantment.

One could say that conventional enchantment has been transferred to the world of science and mathematics where a deep beauty is intuited. Professor Frank Wilczek of MIT (Nobel Prize) wrote several books on this intersection of science and the quest for beauty whereas Sabine Hossenfelder of Germany has argued, per contra, that this will be a “bum steer.”

You should sense that like movies, songs give you a “side window” or back door into thinking and knowledge, which should be center stage and not depreciated.

Movies as Your Own Informal University

Theodicy is the inquiry into the paradox that a loving God would witness and allow such endless evil as exists in the world.

Movies can be very informative as a parallel university which gives you a visual and story-based entry into such a problem or puzzle or conundrum or dilemma.

Take the Roger Corman classic film (based on the Edgar Allan Poe story):

The Masque of the Red Death from 1964.

Consider the following exchange between Prospero (Vincent Price plays a kind of “evil machine”) from the film:

Prospero: Somewhere in the human mind, my dear Francesca, lies the key to our existence. My ancestors tried to find it. And to open the door that separates us from our Creator.

Francesca: But you need no doors to find God. If you believe…

Prospero: Believe? If you believe, my dear Francesca, you are… gullible. Can you look around this world and believe in the goodness of a god who rules it?

Famine, Pestilence, War, Disease and Death! They rule this world.

Basic Story:

The evil Prince Prospero is riding through the Catania village when he sees that the peasants are dying of the Red Death. Prospero asks to burn down the village and he is offended by the villagers, Gino and his father-in-law Ludovico. He decides to kill them, but Gino’s wife, the young and beautiful Francesca, begs for the lives of her husband and her father and Prospero brings them alive to his castle expecting to corrupt Francesca. Prospero worships Satan and invites his noble friends to stay in his castle which is a shelter of depravity against the plague. When Prospero invites his guests to attend a masked ball, he sees a red-hooded stranger and he believes that Satan himself has attended his party. But soon he learns who his mysterious guest is.

Theodicy and the Explanation of God’s Coexistence with Evil:

Wikipedia informs us:

Theodicy means the vindication of God. It is to answer the question of why a good God permits the manifestation of evil, thus resolving the issue of the problem of evil. Some theodicies also address the problem of evil “to make the existence of an all-knowing, all-powerful and all-good or omnibenevolent God consistent with the existence of evil or suffering in the world.” Unlike a defense, which tries to demonstrate that God’s existence is logically possible in the light of evil, a theodicy provides a framework wherein God’s existence is also plausible.

The German philosopher and mathematician Gottfried Leibniz coined the term “theodicy” in 1710 in his work Théodicée, though various responses to the problem of evil had been previously proposed. The British philosopher John Hick traced the history of moral theodicy in his 1966 work, Evil and the God of Love, identifying three major traditions:

  1. the Plotinian theodicy, named after Plotinus.
  2. the Augustinian theodicy, which Hick based on the writings of Augustine of Hippo.
  3. the Irenaean theodicy, which Hick developed, based on the thinking of St. Irenaeus.

One of life’s educational tricks (a pillar of Meta Intelligence) is to let the off-campusuniversity” of movies give you an on-ramp, if you know how to take it, into formal academe on the campus.

COVID-19 and “Naïve Probabilism”

[from the London Mathematical Laboratory]

In the early weeks of the 2020 U.S. COVID-19 outbreak, guidance from the scientific establishment and government agencies included a number of dubious claims—masks don’t work, there’s no evidence of human-to-human transmission, and the risk to the public is low. These statements were backed by health authorities, as well as public intellectuals, but were later disavowed or disproven, and the initial under-reaction was followed by an equal overreaction and imposition of draconian restrictions on human social activities.

In a recent paper, LML Fellow Harry Crane examines how these early mis-steps ultimately contributed to higher death tolls, prolonged lockdowns, and diminished trust in science and government leadership. Even so, the organizations and individuals most responsible for misleading the public suffered little or no consequences, or even benefited from their mistakes. As he discusses, this perverse outcome can be seen as the result of authorities applying a formulaic procedure of “naïve probabilism” in facing highly uncertain and complex problems, and largely assuming that decision-making under uncertainty boils down to probability calculations and statistical analysis.

This attitude, he suggests, might be captured in a few simple “axioms of naïve probabilism”:

Axiom 1: more complex the problem, the more complicated the solution.

This idea is a hallmark of naïve decision making. The COVID-19 outbreak was highly complex, being a novel virus of uncertain origins, and spreading through the interconnected global society. But the potential usefulness of masks was not one of these complexities. The mask mistake was consequential not because masks were the antidote to COVID-19, but because they were a low cost measure the effect of which would be neutral at worst; wearing a mask can’t hurt in reducing the spread of a virus.

Yet the experts neglected common sense in favor of a more “scientific response” based on rigorous peer review and sufficient data. Two months after the initial U.S. outbreak, a study confirmed the obvious, and masks went from being strongly discouraged to being mandated by law. Precious time had been wasted, many lives lost, and the economy stalled.

Crane also considers another rule of naïve probabilism:

Axiom 2: Until proven otherwise, assume that the future will resemble the past.

In the COVID-19 pandemic, of course, there was at first no data that masks work, no data that travel restrictions work, no data of human-to-human transmission. How could there be? Yet some naïve experts took this as a reason to maintain the status quo. Indeed, many universities refused to do anything in preparation until a few cases had been detected on campus—at which point they had some data, as well as hundreds or thousands of other as yet undetected infections.

Crane touches on some of the more extreme examples of his kind of thinking, which assumes that whatever can’t be explained in terms of something that happened in the past is speculative, non-scientific and unjustifiable:

“This argument was put forward by John Ioannidis in mid-March 2020, as the pandemic outbreak was already spiralling out of control. Ioannidis wrote that COVID-19 wasn’t a ‘once-in-a-century pandemic,’ as many were saying, but rather a ‘once-in-a-century data-fiasco’. Ioannidis’s main argument was that we knew very little about the disease, its fatality rate, and the overall risks it poses to public health; and that in face of this uncertainty, we should seek data-driven policy decisions. Until the data was available, we should assume COVID-19 acts as a typical strain of the flu (a different disease entirely).”

Unfortunately, waiting for the data also means waiting too long, if it turns out that the virus turns out to be more serious. This is like waiting to hit the tree before accepting that the available data indeed supports wearing a seatbelt. Moreover, in the pandemic example, this “lack of evidence” argument ignores other evidence from before the virus entered the United States. China had locked down a city of 10 million; Italy had locked down its entire northern region, with the entire country soon to follow. There was worldwide consensus that the virus was novel, the virus was spreading fast and medical communities had no idea how to treat it. That’s data, and plenty of information to act on.

Crane goes on to consider a 3rd axiom of naïve probabilism, which aims to turn ignorance into a strength. Overall, he argues, these axioms, despite being widely used by many prominent authorities and academic experts, actually capture a set of dangerous fallacies for action in the real world.

In reality, complex problems call for simple, actionable solutions; the past doesn’t repeat indefinitely (i.e., COVID-19 was never the flu); and ignorance is not a form of wisdom. The Naïve Probabilist’s primary objective is to be accurate with high probability rather than to protect against high-consequence, low-probability outcomes. This goes against common sense principles of decision making in uncertain environments with potentially very severe consequences.

Importantly, Crane emphasizes, the hallmark of Naïve Probabilism is naïveté, not ignorance, stupidity, crudeness or other such base qualities. The typical Naïve Probabilist lacks not knowledge or refinement, but the experience and good judgment that comes from making real decisions with real consequences in the real world. The most prominent naïve probabilists are recognized (academic) experts in mathematical probability, or relatedly statistics, physics, psychology, economics, epistemology, medicine or so-called decision sciences. Moreover, and worryingly, the best known naïve probabilists are quite sophisticated, skilled in the art of influencing public policy decisions without suffering from the risks those policies impose on the rest of society.

Read the paper. [Archived PDF]

Line from Tennyson Poem: Thinking about Education

Alfred Tennyson, 1st Baron Tennyson FRS (6 August, 1809 – 6 October, 1892) was the Poet Laureate of Great Britain and Ireland during much of Queen Victoria’s reign and remains one of the most popular British poets.

One of his most famous poems is Locksley Hall (1835-1842).

In the poem, Tennyson predicts the rise of both civil aviation and military aviation with the following words:

Saw the heavens fill with commerce, argosies of magic sails,
Pilots of the purple twilight, dropping down with costly bales;
Heard the heavens fill with shouting, and there rain’d a ghastly dew
From the nations’ airy navies grappling in the central blue;

A key line in this poem is: “Knowledge comes, but wisdom lingers.”

This Tennyson line is not identical with what we are attempting here but it is helpful in terms of its basic intuition as to what “evaporates” from the mind and what might remain.

Our quest is more: develop through all these examples a sense of “omnidirectional zooming out” from any one field, lecture, book, movie, topic, question, quiz, discussion in schools and universities and create your own inner “map room.”

One “strange” characteristic of this particular map room is that it does not “banish the intensely personal” but considers that the basis and not some kind of illegitimate distraction. But that’s not all: it proposes that you hold in your mind the truth the education is itself found between the intensely personal and the global surround of techno-commerce, and that means that “the omnidirectional quest to understand” must always be aware of these levels and dimensions at the same time and in the same mind and person. Everything else is specialized training or platitudinous “motivational speaking.”

What we are introducing here is “equidistant” from all that and insists on an “all at once” evolving overview as odd as that may appear when you start.

You can neither “major in everything and all fields” and you also cannot neglect the deepest dimensions, taken together. This is the “razor’s edge” one must walk on.

Education and Finality Claims

Stephen Hawking kept saying he wanted to discover the ultimate world-equation. This would be the final “triumph of the rational human mind.”

This would presumably imply that if one had such a world-equation, one could infer or deduce all the formalisms in a university physics book with its thousand pages of equations, puzzles and conundrums, footnotes and names and dates.

While hypothetically imaginable, this seems very unlikely because too many phenomena are included, too many topics, too many rules and laws.

There’s another deep problem with such Hawking-type “final equation” quests. Think of the fact that a Henri Poincaré (died in 1912) suddenly appears and writes hundreds of excellent science papers. Think of Paul Erdős (died in 1996) and his hundreds of number theory papers. Since the appearance of such geniuses and powerhouses is not knowable in advance, the production of new knowledge is unpredictable and would “overwhelm” any move towards some world-equation which was formulated without the new knowledge since it was not known at the time that the world-equation was formalized.

Furthermore, if the universe is mathematical as MIT’s Professor Max Tegmark claims, then a Hawking-type “world-equation” would cover all mathematics without which parts of Tegmark’s universe would be “unaccounted for.”

In other words, history and the historical experience, cast doubt on the Stephen Hawking “finality” project. It’s not just that parts of physics don’t fit together. (General relativity and quantum mechanics, gravity and the other three fundamental forces.) Finality would also imply that there would be no new Stephen Hawking who would refute the world-equation as it stands at a certain point in time. In other words, if you choose, as scientists like Freeman Dyson claim that the universe is a “vast evolutionary” process, then the mathematical thinking about it is also evolving or co-evolving and there’s no end.

There are no final works in poetry, novels, jokes, language, movies or songs and there’s perhaps also no end to science.

Thus a Hawking-type quest for the final world-equation seems enchanting but quixotic.

Some Historical Notes on the Three Quests of China: Dignity, Stability, Understanding

Dignity Quest

In “The Philosopher,” a chapter in the 1922 travel book On a Chinese Screen, W. Somerset Maugham comments, “He was the greatest authority in China on Confucian learning.”

The philosopher mentioned above tells Maugham: 

“I took the Ph.D. in Berlin, you know,” he said.  “And afterwards I studied in Oxford.   …  But his study of Western philosophy had only served in the end to satisfy him that wisdom after all was to be found within the limits of the Confucian canon.  He accepted its philosophy with conviction.  If Confucianism gained so firm a hold on the Chinese it is because it explained and expressed them as no other system of thought could do.  He loathed the modern cry for individualism.  For him society was the unit, and the family the foundation of society.  He upheld the old China and the old school, monarchy, and the rigid canon of Confucius.  He grew violent and bitter as he spoke of the students fresh from foreign universities, who with sacrilegious hands tore down the oldest civilization in the world. ”

“But you, do you know what you are doing?” he exclaimed. “What is the reason for which you deem yourselves our betters? Have you excelled us in arts or letters? Have our thinkers been less profound than yours? Has our civilization been less elaborate, less complicated, less refined than yours? Why, when you lived in caves and clothed yourselves with skins we were a cultured people. Do you know that we tried an experiment which is unique in the history of the world? We sought to rule this great country not by force, but by wisdom. And for centuries we succeeded. Then why does the white man despise the yellow? Shall I tell you? Because he has invented the machine gun. That is your superiority. We are a defenseless horde and you can blow us into eternity. You have shattered the dream of our philosophers that the world could be governed by the power of law and order. And now you are teaching our young men your secret. You have thrust your hideous inventions upon us. Do you not know that we have a genius for mechanics? Do you not know that there are in this country four hundred millions of the most practical and industrious people in the world? Do you think it will take us long to learn? And what will become of your superiority when the yellow man can make as good guns as the white and fire them as straight? You have appealed to the machine gun and by the machine gun shall you be judged.”

Stability Quest

  1. The decade of the 1850s gives a most revealing picture of the Chinese sense of things falling apart.  The Taiping Rebellion, convulsed China in the 1850s. It was a utopian movement which wants to go backwards and forwards at the same time and arrive at a historical paradise.

  2. From 1859-1860, the Second Opium War racks China. The British extract more concessions from the Chinese by the Treaty of Tientsin, a tremendous new humiliation for the Chinese. As part of Britishshock and awe” of that time the Summer Palace in Beijing is burned down.

  3. In Chinese society, to add to this misery, there is a tremendous conflict in China between the Hakka (客家, “Guest People”) with the Punti (本地, “Native/Original People”) called the HakkaPunti conflict, and is referred to in the movie The Hawaiians, based on the James Michener novel.

  4. All of this Chinese turmoil and national weakness is itself taking place in a global context that is threatening. Commodore Perry and his “Black Ships” sail into Edo Bay (now Tokyo Bay) in 1853, to dictate terms to the Japanese which amount to “trade or die” (an Americanshock and awe”).

  5. In 1857-1858, India convulses with the Indian Mutiny, which has been described as the opening chapter of the Indian Independence Movement. The Indian Mutiny, also known as the Sepoy Mutiny, was put down with shocking brutality. The Chinese watching the event, feel rage about the insouciant attitude of Westerners towards non-Western people.(A recent masterpiece Human Smoke by Nicholson Baker shows you the same insouciant attitude in the Bengal Famine of the 1940s and with Churchill’s dismissive comments about the human misery.) The Chinese who were studying news reports coming out of India suddenly learnt that control of India in 1858 was transferred permanently from the East India Company to the Crown, showing that the British could change the rules of the game at will.

  6. In the 19th century Chinese and Japanese thinkers came up with two definitive slogans, which they used to orient themselves.

    Slogan One

    “Western Technology, Eastern Ethics.” What is the balance point between West and the East? Xi Jinping (习近平) is also trying to find a balance. How American must a Chinese Silicon Valley have to be?

    Slogan Two

    “Rich Country, Strong Army.” How fast could China become a rich country with a strong army, without provoking a global backlash—think Chinese leaders since Mao.

  7. Certain opaque and chaotic phenomena in Chinese history haunt the Chinese mind. Mao was reading Chinese historians all his life to try to understand these phenomena. Chinese schoolboys are trying to understand the rebellion called the An Lu-Shan (安禄山) of 755-763, which takes place in the middle of the Tang Dynasty and plunges China into chaos. Leaders, scholars and schoolchildren of China want to decipher the events of this very classic rebellion in Chinese history and to understand what they are always trying to understand: how things go bad. An Lu-Shan was of Turkish and Sogdian origins, which created another kind of nervousness: turmoil in China coming from non-Chinese ethnic groups. Chinese brutality toward both the Tibetans and the Muslims within China echo these anxieties. This classical rebellion is interpreted by Chinese as the beginning of the end of the Tang Dynasty, the first Chinese Golden Age. China’s preoccupation with stability comes from its insecurity about national turmoil such as the An Lu-Shan Rebellion case, which could merge with foreign threats creating a nightmare for China.

  8. China was conquered by the Mongols who created the Yuan Dynasty circa 1300 A.D. China was conquered by the Manchus from 1644-1911. The Japanese assaulted China in the 1930s. Europeans colonized and broke China into pieces in the 19th century. The ultimate symbol of China’s defeat was the two Opium Wars—1839 and 1859—by the British. The tremendous humiliation suffered by the Chinese is masterfully conveyed by Arthur Waley’s classic book, The Opium War Through Chinese Eyes.

Quest to Understand

China and Charles Darwin, by James Pusey, captures the perplexity of the Western intellectual impact on China in the last few lines of the book. “But Charles Darwin honestly entered those mixtures in Chinese heads and made them different. So his influence was real. Chinese of course confused Darwin’s ideas and were confused by them, and of course they got confused in Chinese directions, but small wonder. Every people has gotten confused. For the fact of the matter is, when all is said and done, that no one knows what to make of evolution.”

Many Western ideas and philosophies are troubling and destabilizing for the Chinese such as, individualism before society and family; marriage based on romantic love alone; a society based on innovate-or-die.

The Chinese quest for such modes of stability has a perennial quality.

Essay 105: The Captive Mind Book and Intellectual Danger

The Captive Mind, by Polish poet Czesław Miłosz, is a classic work in the domain of “mental freedom” and resistance to propaganda and every kind of brainwashing. Every nation state is to some extent a “lie factory” and a “deception machine.” A person has to “fend off” this manipulative or ideological power grab.

This very handbook of mini-essays, “Meta Intelligence,” is itself partly a defense of the non-captive mind, in the tradition of the Miłosz book. On the other hand, there’s a danger here “on the other side” since there’s a “free floating intellectual” temptation to take a sneering attitude towards all belief systems and to look down on the average person. There are dangers on all sides of this “non-captivity” of the mind. By embracing globalized and cosmopolitan education and by looking for knowledge connections in lectures, fields, universities, we look for a mental stance which is non-captive but not dismissive of believers. The French have a saying for this sense of intellectual superiority, “de haut en bas,” talking from “high to low,” from top to bottom.

Our purpose is to promote educational understanding, re-enchantment and “homemade” exercises in holism and not to promote superiority attitudes. Herman Melville’s Ishmael, the only survivor in Moby-Dick is tolerant and cosmopolitan and not exclusionary or monomaniacal like Ahab or Starbuck. Ishmael’s receptivity to things is a good model for such improved education, whether by life, whaling ships, academe.

The Captive Mind (Polish: Zniewolony umysł) is a 1953 work of nonfiction by Polish writer, poet, academic and Nobel laureate Czesław Miłosz.

It was first published in English translation by Secker and Warburg in 1953. The work was written soon after the author’s defection from Stalinist Poland in 1951. While writing The Captive Mind, Miłosz drew upon his experiences as an illegal author during the Nazi Occupation and of being a member of the ruling class of the postwar People’s Republic of Poland. The book attempts to explain the allure of Stalinism to intellectuals, the thought processes of those who believe in it, and the existence of both dissent and collaboration within the post-war Soviet Bloc. Miłosz describes the book as having been written “under great inner conflict.”

Czesław Miłosz was a Polish-American poet, prose writer, translator, and diplomat. Regarded as one of the great poets of the twentieth century, he won the 1980 Nobel Prize in Literature.

Born: June 30, 1911, Šeteniai, Lithuania
Died: August 14, 2004, Kraków, Poland
Awards: Nobel Prize in Literature

Essay 93: Education and the Movies: The Issue of Political Irrationality

The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie is a movie masterpiece that is enormously educational not for the particular details of the story but for the phenomenon of politics as an outlet for personal problems: The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie is a 1969 British drama film, based on the novel of the same name by Muriel Spark. Directed by Ronald Neame, it stars Maggie Smith in the title role as an unrestrained teacher at a girls’ school in 1930s Edinburgh.

Maggie Smith (whom you know from Downton Abbey as the aggressive matriarch) plays a romantically naive schoolteacher at a girl’s school in Scotland, 1930s. She has a “big time” crush on a handsome gym teacher whom she discovers in bed with one of the young girls—“Sandy” and has a kind of nervous breakdown or better, “image of the whole correctness of the world” breakdown.

The teacher sees newsreels of Mussolini in Italy and begins to think of him as a “romantic savior and ‘world-cleaner’ who will clean up the illegitimate situation at her girls’s school in Edinburgh and salvage her dignity and place and prestige and sense of how the world should be. On the one hand Miss Brodie talks about the girls of the school as ‘la crème de la crème’ but how does that comport with ‘Sandy’ and the male gym teacher sharing their beds with each other? The ‘cognitive dissonance’ (incompatibility) in Miss Brodie’s mind is causing her to break down and flee into fantasy land (i.e., Mussolini will restore the romantic world to the way it’s supposed to be). She goes deeper and deeper into this nutty vision of salvation and romantic re-balancing and at the end of the movie, ‘Sandy’ senses that she’s coming unglued and is borderline bonkers. Thus the title ‘the prime of’ can be thought of as ironical or sardonic since the teacher Miss Brodie is flipping out and ‘maps’ her romantic frustrations” onto Mussolini. This is what makes politics so dangerous (i.e., it serves as a “Rorschach test” for people’s inner irrationalities and yearnings and they “see” what they need to see).

Harold Lasswell (died in 1978) spent his life exploring politics and people’s private lives, order, sense of things, grievances, in such books as Psychopathology and Politics.  If you watch the movie The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie you will see how people use politics as a “screen” on which they project their emotions, grievances, hurts, humiliations, hysteria, anger.

Harold Dwight Lasswell (February 13, 1902 – December 18, 1978) was a leading American political scientist and communications theorist. He was a Ph.D. student at the University of Chicago, and he was a professor of law at Yale University. He served as president of the American Political Science Association (APSA), of the American Society of International Law and of the World Academy of Art and Science (WAAS).

He has been described as a “one-man university” whose “competence in, and contributions to, anthropology, communications, economics, law, philosophy, psychology, psychiatry and sociology are enough to make him a political scientist in the model of classical Greece.”

Table of Contents for Lasswell’s Psychopathology and Politics Book

I. Life-Histories and Political Science
II. The Psychopathological Approach
III. A New Technique of Thinking
IV. The Criteria of Political Types
V. Theories of Personality Development
VI. Political Agitators
VII. Political Agitators—Continued
VIII. Political Administrators
IX. Political Convictions
X. The Politics of Prevention
XI. The Prolonged Interview and Its Objectification
XII. The Personality System and Its Substitutive Reactions
XIII. The State as a Manifold of Events
Afterthoughts—Thirty Years Later
Appendix A. Select Bibliography
Appendix B. Question List on Political Practices

(2016 reprint of 1930 edition. Full facsimile of the original edition.)

First published in 1930, this classic study of personality types remains vital for the understanding of contemporary public figures. Lasswell’s pioneering application of the concepts of clinical psychology to the understanding of power brokers in politics, business, and even the church offers insights into the careers of leaders as diverse as Adolf Hitler and, arguably to more recent figures such as Richard Nixon, Donald Trump and the Clintons.

Movies should be your off-campus alternate university. You should ask yourself does this movie and Lasswell’s notions of psychopathology in politics help me understand authoritarian leaders today and such bizarre phenomena as half-dead prisoners in Stalin’s gulags bursting into tears in March 1953 when they learned of his death. Why sob over the death of the man who’s murdering you and tormenting you and your family?

Essay 2: Connectivity and the Need for Meta Intelligence

Arguments without end and our attitude to them:

A reader of this book might ask:

How far does this quest for more holism go?  Are there limits on this type of inquiry?

This is a very good question.  In order to answer this, we quote something from the famous French historian, Michelet, who died in 1874:

“Woe be to him who tries to isolate one department of knowledge from the rest….all science [i.e., knowledge] is one:  language, literature and history, physics, mathematics and philosophy; subjects which seem the most remote from one another are in reality connected, or rather all form a single system.”

(quoted in To the Finland Station, Edmund Wilson, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1940, page 8)

Our attitude to such radical system building is non-committal. Rather we say, you the student should pursue flexible forms of increased connection and holism while you acquire knowledge and extend it and not worry about some once-and-for-all system underneath or beyond everything. We propose exercises in holism and all exercises are replaceable with new ones or better ones and there’s no “final layer” or hidden “mind of God” to use Stephen Hawking language. The existence of some underlying or final system is something like an “argument without end” (to use Pieter Geyl language).

This argument is captured by the classic “fight” between Hegel (the person that Marx and Kierkegaard rebelled against and who died in 1831) and Adorno in the twentieth century.

Hegel says: The whole is the true. Adorno (who died in 1969) says: The whole is the false.

We skip all such fights.

Thinking about University Knowledge Again:

One cannot major in every field. One cannot make everything a university offers your specialty or concentration.

“Sartor Resartus:”  The great British critic Thomas Carlyle (who died in 1881), close friend of Ralph Waldo Emerson, wrote a famous satire called “Sartor Resartus or The Tailor Retailored” where he lampoons a certain Professor Devil’s-crud who teaches at Don’t-Know-Where University and is Professor of Everything.

Obviously, we are not proposing the creation of professors-of-everything and propose nothing more than the heightened ability to “zoom out” of academic fields, topics, lectures, topics, campuses.

A person who has similar intuitions is Alfred North Whitehead of Harvard (died 1947) who says in his essays on education that the real purpose of university education is to enable the learner to generalize better using that person’s field as a help or aid.  The purpose of a university cannot be fields and monographs within fields alone.