Created April 1, 2021
(This is Part Two of our story Part one)
At Esalen Sanctuary, the sky was turning purple although the sun was not quite to the ocean.
Joe had just lobbed his bombshell proposing an ongoing triangular conversation working together toward permanent relief of friction. All three were now using the jets on their backs and allowing their minds to roam. Strangely, all of them were picturing their own citizens living in a happy world. Vlad and Jinping were mentally commenting cynically to themselves but allowing the positive images to flow.
Joe broke the silence. He was the one who came with a playbook so he kept the conversation going. The two guests were in listening mode, not wanting to give aid and comfort to the enemy but to conduct a thorough reconnaissance.
“Please don’t think of me as an enemy,” Joe said. “Despite the harsh words I used, you know I highly respect you both, and especially your intelligence. We are in this together. In a lifeboat. And we three are responsible for the lives of billions of people – everybody on Earth. If we choose to see through the lens of ‘enemy’, the world is headed for terminal disaster, it would just be a matter of time. We have to see through the lens of ‘fellow human beings, trying our best to do what is right.’”
“Ah, but what is right?” Jinping interjected.
“We’re all trying to make life better for our people,” Joe said, “just going about it differently. Three people as smart as us better be able to figure it out or we all lose the game.” Joe realized he hadn’t answered the question. “What’s right for you might not be what’s right for me, so we figure out a workaround that all sides can live with without having to hold our noses.”
“I sometimes tire of broad generalities,” Vlad said somewhat apologetically and the other two weren’t sure he was being ironic, “Can you give a specific example of what you’re proposing?”
“Sure,” Joe said, his face telling the other two that Joe was going to be loaded for bear with examples. This would be interesting and perhaps advantageous to Vlad and Jinping.
“Sanctions are not the right mechanism,” he went on, receiving instant nods of agreement. “They are distasteful, add to the friction instead of relieving it, harm the world economy and create a death spiral for trade, and when used to try to coerce a nation to show more apparent concern for human rights, so far they have failed 100%.” The other two nodded more emphatically.
“They also give us an unfair advantage,” Joe added.
The two were baffled that an adversary would reveal a non-obvious advantage – giving away the element of surprise – and what was he talking about anyway?
“Not clear to me what you mean,” Vlad responded, and Jinping shook his head.
“Your people want our brands more than our people want your brands,” Joe said, looking at Jinping. “It’s been the marketing – now we are all equals in that – but we had a long lead time.”
“So please spell out how you see that working to your advantage,” Jinping requested.
“It spirals downward unless we switch to other methods. First the American people decide to boycott Chinese products, then China does the same to us. Our people are not much troubled, pay some higher prices, start to rebuild manufacturing on shore. China’s people do without, but many traffic black market American goods, causing internal strife and criminalizing large numbers of otherwise law-abiding people – especially the young.” Joe later realized he should have stopped there but the words which sprang into his mind were new to him so he spoke them aloud, as if musing to himself: “American media have shaped a world youth culture which is now evolving to be a true intermixed world culture – they are leading us to be one family…”
Vlad thought he’d gone off the rails, and Jinping interrupted with a bit of momentary anger: “Yes but you and your media are raising unrealistic expectations we’re never going to fulfil!”
“We are clearly more optimistic than you are,” Joe admitted. “We strive to be idealistic realists. Like both of your cultures, we come up with lots of new ideas all the time, and this fact encourages us to be optimistic. Challenges make us use our creativity at peak levels. Especially if we three achieve global cooperativeness in this creative process, there’s reason to put away the pessimism. Optimism – pessimism – the world is what we make it. Especially we three – we’ve wound up with the power to end the world or to remake it so that it does work, everywhere, to everyone’s benefit – together, we’re smart enough to accomplish that.””
“No,” Vlad disagreed, “there are billions of people out there who put the lie to any optimistic theory. The dregs of the Earth, billions of them, people that we three would never spend one minute with. In Russia and China, we keep these people in line and try our best to bring them up from their animal level of thinking. In democracies those people have the same vote that you have Joe. You have teams of the best people on the planet advising you, but a bowery bum has the same weight as you do in the voting.”
“Your idea of democracy is what we call ‘naïve democracy’,” Jinping jumped in. “To anyone with common sense, to anyone who has studied history as reported by all sides, it’s insane to try to do democracy the way the West has been trying to do it. We consider our type of democracy superior because it works efficiently. We call ours ‘realistic democracy’. When you try to lecture us about human rights and so on, we are insulted because we believe we have bypassed you in political science.”
Vlad quoted H. L. Mencken, “Democracy is a pathetic belief in the collective wisdom of individual ignorance.”
“Whoa – hold up guys,” Joe held up his hand and smiled at them, “We have a different theory about the folks that Mencken called ‘plain people’. It’s a two-part theory. Part One is that we train them to be people we would be happy to spend a few minutes with, people who can support themselves and contribute to society. We’re calling this “individualized education” because Part Two of the idea is to find out what life’s work each person would love to do, and make it possible through training and information.”
The two guests looked at each other. Again, Joe had given them information he would have been smarter to withhold and use for American interest first before giving it away to competitors, who because of the efficiency of their governments, could put ideas to work faster.
Joe smiled at them as if reading their minds. He had been coached what to expect. “I look forward to seeing your experiments and learning from them. The more we test and learn everywhere – given the glass houses we all live in – the faster we all grow up.”
“One thing is not the other,” Vlad objected. “Yes, I like your plan to pull these people up, it will take generations but it’s worth doing. But that doesn’t prove anything about the workability of naïve unrealistic democracy. You can’t say that it’s working. Look at what your democracy did electing Trump! Or, look at this one: Aaron Burr right after killing Hamilton – one man indicted for murder of a Founding Father – convinces the Senate to remove the ‘previous question’ rule, and that creates the filibuster. Now the 31% of least adaptable people in your country, the ones most afraid of the future, have 60% of the power. You can’t get new legislation passed no matter how good your ideas may be. You’ve put a brake on your own efficiency for over two centuries! What do you call a system that does that if not naïve and unrealistic?”
“Fair enough,” Joe agreed, “Neither political parties nor filibusters are in the U.S. Constitution. Maybe one day we’ll get to test how efficiently we can govern the U.S. based on the Constitution. That’s one of my goals. I think you’ll see that it isn’t inefficient when the Senate gets its ability back to move on from futile conversation loops.”
The full moon rose over the Pacific across the sky from the dwindling sunset.
“Like let’s get out of this loop about democracy and go back to where we were going – alternative method to sanctions,” Joe said seriously but with a friendly smile. “We’ll have lots of time for philosophy if we keep up this meeting via Zoom every week.” They looked at him expectantly.
“There is no way of stopping people around the world from saying whatever they like,” Joe went on. “If there is expression of disgust over certain events that happen in any of our countries, in order to rechannel outrage away from sanctions and things that work against us all, the most wu wei solution is to remove the cause of the outrage.” Jinping’s expression darkened slightly.
Wu wei is the core tenet of Lao Tzu’s philosophy and of Taoism. It means going with the flow of the Universe’s action (Tao). It also means effortless action as in Flow state. May The Force Be With You. Jinping agrees with the wisdom of wu wei but was slightly miffed at a non-Chinese co-opting it. His face relaxed again.
“You are saying we should simply stop doing the things you criticize us for, although we’ve repeatedly warned you that we are offended by such meddlings,” Jinping said levelly. “Is this creativity, to simply repeat demands?”
“No, the creative part is next. First of all, let’s say the issue is something that you’ve been denying – fake news. One way you could choose to handle that is to invite the Red Cross, or a UN commission, to inspect the situation on the ground and verify that you’ve been telling the truth.”
“Not a bad idea,” Jinping said, “I’ll consider it.” He wondered if Biden knew that Chiang Kai-Shek had snookered the world for years by inviting the press into sanitized areas. However, Jinping was not thinking of doing that.
“I can’t see that this particular piece of creativity is going to make a big difference, Joe,” Vlad said honestly.
Joe nodded agreement. “Just one piece of the puzzle,” Joe said. “Here’s the big idea: Most Favored Nation treatment in all trade deals between the U.S. and your countries if you show the world that you sincerely are respectful of human rights. That you are taking steps to show compassion for all of your people and neighbors.”
The two other men were holding their bodies and expressions very still.
“How would that work?” Vlad asked neutrally.
“I’d prefer that it be based on something objective, so that it’s not a judgment call,” Joe said. “A Pew global poll every month or more frequently that tracks world perception of whether a given country is sincerely doing what it can to move at realistic and compassionate speed toward respecting human rights. As long as more than half the world believes in you, the MFN lasts, as soon as more than half the world condemns you, the MFN is abated until the poll results change for the better. or something like that.”
He saw the gradually dawning realization on their faces of just how serious he was.
“Yes. It’s time to change the game entirely,” he said with a grin, rubbing his palms together vigorously as if he had just spat in them. The meme of getting down to work with eagerness.
The sun had gone down and the colors were draining out of the sky, but their three faces shone with a new inner light.
To be continued.
Best to all,