PRC Tips for Understanding American Naivete

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in ,,, at 9/23/2010 12:05:00 AM
In Graham Greene's famous, twice-filmed novel The Quiet American, the titular character Alden Pyle represents blind faith in The Enduring Goodness of America despite harbouring much capacity for harm in trying to bring such naivete to life. That is, remaking the world in the image of American-style capitalist liberal democracy would supposedly deliver the rest of us primitives to a higher state of enlightenment.

To be sure, there is a bland, whitebread sameness that pervades much of the Amerocentric blogosphere. While you get variations here and there, the end message inevitably converges on a similar idea: a combination of democracy and markets will deliver freedom 'n' growth to uplift even the most benighted.

So it comes as no surprise that the Chinese have been at the receiving end of this shtick for the longest time from the Americans. However, China's relative ascent means it has become less and less willing to take rewarmed Alden Pyle-ish statements at face value. Recently, I read David Shambaugh's book China's Communist Party: Atrophy and Adaptation. An important takeaway is the Chinese do understand that the Alden Pyle complex is very much real. Compared to Europeans who've been there, done that, seen the movie, and bought the T-shirt, the US still tries to do what the erstwhile European imperialists ultimately gave up on.

The Chinese Academy of Social Sciences came up with this trenchant observation quoted by Shambaugh on p. 101:
The most characteristic policy in Europe is rationalism, while the most valued philosophy in the U.S. is pragmatism. The latter deals with the world task-by-task and does not tend to analyze situations deeply or systematically. While it is not irrational, it is a more simplistic and shallow worldview than rationalism. European rationalism considers situations more comprehensively and more deeply. As a result, Europe has a more mature outlook on the appropriate paths for global development. The philosophically shallower U.S., however, often has a hard time understanding the depth of European thinking and the extremely complex world.

U.S. assessments of the global situation are often simplistic and biased, as exemplified by the belief that transforming the rest of the world in the mold of American-style democracy will guarantee world peace. Europeans once wanted to use religion and weapons to conquer the world, but their experiences with the tragedies of many wars have forced them to reexamine the nature of power. Americans are merely repeating the mistakes that Europeans have already learned from. European culture is actually more respectful of diversity of cultures…The U.S. approach to global cultures is to try to conform other cultures to Western civilization. In contrast, Europe emphasizes the need for global cultural tolerance and dialogue.
That sounds about right to me. Just see how far plying freedom 'n' growth shtick will get you in today's world. Make no mistake: the Chinese understand.