Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Doublethinking? Think Again.

Tibeto-logic, along with all of Blogspot, is inaccessible in the People’s Republic of China, that is, to the people there. That means if you’re there you can’t get here. Even Apple since last year has made sure its iPhone apps keep things that way. Generally do-no-evil Google goes along with the power, but (refreshingly) it has been known to talk back. These are the conditions we have to start with here where we are. A blog about Tibetan studies cannot be seen in Tibet.

When His Holiness the Dalai Lama — by the way, perhaps the best person in the whole world, certainly an inspiration for anyone who might contemplate leading an ethical life* — travels in the world these days, the number of leaders meeting Him has taken an even further plunge since 2012.  Let’s see, how many people have taken Xi Jingping as a moral compass?  (Wait, we may have one here)
(*I would link you to a download of Ethics for a New Millennium, but am unsure of the ethical ramifications.)

Source:  Foreign Policy

And here we have it: a person recently listed 9th in a list of world leaders by Fortune magazine being snubbed or disinvited, turned away by South Africa, and even, believe it or not, snubbed by the Norwegian PM.  

But here my intention is to talk about freedom of speech (and the need to speak, and the need to refuse to be silenced), more than freedom of association, although the latter may be important to the former. I want to ask the Tibetologists, Where do you stand on censorship? And by censorship I mean to include the kind you do to yourself, thinking you or someone you know might get in trouble. Do you speak out against injustice and lies? I know, you are probably thinking to yourself it isn’t part of your job description, that it's a job for real professionals, the “_____ [fill in the blank].”

Think again, or at least read slowly and think about what Chomsky said in two paragraphs in his famous old essay of 1967:  

“With respect to the responsibility of intellectuals,* there are still other, equally disturbing questions. Intellectuals are in a position to expose the lies of governments, to analyze actions according to their causes and motives and often hidden intentions. In the Western world, at least, they have the power that comes from political liberty, from access to information and freedom of expression. For a privileged minority, Western democracy provides the leisure, the facilities, and the training to seek the truth lying hidden behind the veil of distortion and misrepresentation, ideology and class interest, through which the events of current history are presented to us. The responsibilities of intellectuals, then, are much deeper than what Macdonald calls the “responsibility of people,” given the unique privileges that intellectuals enjoy.”
(*Just a suggestion, try inserting "Tibetologists" whenever you see the word "intellectuals.")

“IT IS THE RESPONSIBILITY of intellectuals to speak the truth and to expose lies. This, at least, may seem enough of a truism to pass over without comment. Not so, however. For the modern intellectual, it is not at all obvious. Thus we have Martin Heidegger writing, in a pro-Hitler declaration of 1933, that "truth is the revelation of that which makes a people certain, clear, and strong in its action and knowledge"; it is only this kind of "truth" that one has a responsibility to speak. Americans tend to be more forthright. When Arthur Schlesinger was asked by The New York Times in November, 1965, to explain the contradiction between his published account of the Bay of Pigs incident and the story he had given the press at the time of the attack, he simply remarked that he had lied; and a few days later, he went on to compliment the Times for also having suppressed information on the planned invasion, in "the national interest," as this term was defined by the group of arrogant and deluded men of whom Schlesinger gives such a flattering portrait in his recent account of the Kennedy Administration. It is of no particular interest that one man is quite happy to lie in behalf of a cause which he knows to be unjust; but it is significant that such events provoke so little response in the intellectual community..."

Chomsky, hardly a great supporter of Tibet in those days if he ever was, still alluded to harsh things that he could have mentioned. He said, in a footnote, “There are various harsh things that one might say about Chinese behavior in what the Sino-Indian Treaty of 1954 refers to as ‘the Tibet region of China’...”  

More recently, he has been known to make half-hearted analogies between Tibetans and Palestinians:
"Seems to me there is a much closer analogy between the Palestinian occupied territories and Tibet right now. There are dissimilarities too. Thus, rightly or wrongly, Tibet is internationally recognized (by the US too) as part of China, so what is happening there is internal..." (keep reading if you haven't read enough)

With the increasing influence on universities of “Confucius Institutes,” there have been calls recently for renegotiating the contracts they have with U.S. institutions of higher learning. Now that China's relatively rapid economic rise allows it the luxury of buying up academics from all over the world, they are doing just that. In every field, not just hi-tech. In Israel, they aren't just buying controlling shares in cottage cheese factories and irrigation companies, they bought a whole technical school; and then there were the published stories about PAP training in crowd control tactics in the Negev... What is up with that?
“The improved ties have been highlighted by last week’s visit to Beijing by Israel’s military chief and a training mission to Israel by the Chinese paramilitary force that, among other things, polices the restive Tibetan and Muslim Uighur regions.”  [read more]

It's like George Orwell said,
“To know and not to know, to be conscious of complete truthfulness while 
telling carefully constructed lies, to hold simultaneously two opinions 
which cancelled out, knowing them to be contradictory and believing in 
both of them, to use logic against logic, to repudiate morality while 
laying claim to it.”

I would tell you what the carefully constructed lies are, but you know them all too well, no reason to insult your intelligence. Besides, I worry I won't be invited to that next big Tibetan Studies conference in Beijing, where there will be a free and open discussion about all the big problems in the field.

I think some of us are already there, morally neutralized, our critical faculties still there, somewhere, but in abeyance.  

Now try smiling in a mirror while making a concerted effort to distinguish between your objectivity and your neutrality.

Tenzin Nyinjey says, in response to a Time magazine piece: 
“There is a widespread misperception among us that any news about Tibet is good for our freedom struggle. It is true that mainstream media help us inform the world about the plight of Tibet. However, as much as media informs the public about certain facts, it indulges in obscuring the same facts. Instead of educating readers, it confuses them. Instead of advancing freedom, it becomes a stumbling block by siding with authority...’  [continue reading]

Hear that Chomsky?  It’s more than a little difficult to speak about doublespeak without slipping into it. In that respect it is the twin of common fronting. In the end the fools who deliberately started practicing it fool themselves.

It may not need saying, although I feel we ought to say it aloud anyway:  Common fronting means throwing out the window any chance for the honesty and trust that must initiate and continually support any friendship worthy of the name.

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Index on Censorship has this interesting page with incidental insights on how things are in Lhasa of late. Have a look.  Have you noticed any good journalism coming out of Lhasa recently? Wonder why...

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“One of the reasons why scholars have argued that universities need academic freedom is that they act as a critical conscience of society. But having academic freedom in theory is not the same as exercising it in practice. The main problem is self-censorship. It’s about who feels willing and able to speak out. Sadly, those with the most to lose rarely do. The universities have kept their heads down while their students have placed theirs very firmly above the parapet. To our collective shame and embarrassment, it is the students, and not the universities, who are the critical conscience of Hong Kong society. They are the ones who have spoken truth to power.”
- Bruce Macfarlane, Hong Kong professor, here.

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