Clash of Civilizations 2.0

by | Jun 16, 2019 | Newsletter | 12 comments

Readers will recall that last week’s edition of this column ended on something of an intellectual puzzler. To wit: If the Tiananmen Square Massacre narrative that is routinely used to demonize the Chinese government on the world stage is demonstrably wrong (even by the admission of US diplomats and BBC reporters), then why doesn’t the Chinese government say something?

As I concluded in “The Truth About Tiananmen“:

This type of silence in the face of attack is unfathomable to the Western mind. When someone is spreading rumors and easily debunkable lies about you, you speak up. You set the record straight. You fight back. You do something . . . don’t you?

Well, perhaps one key to unlocking this mystery is in the stipulation: The Western mind. We all understand that silence is consent and that anyone who remains silent in the face of accusations is thereby tacitly admitting to their guilt, right? But who is “we”? Does our shared understanding of the meaning of silence come from a specific cultural heritage? And if so, what is the shared understanding of the meaning of silence for the Chinese?

As it turns out, Asian cultures generally (and Chinese culture specifically) do have a very different perception of the meaning of silence. You can go all the way back to Lao Tzu and the Tao Te Ching for confirmation that, to the Chinese mind, silence is not a sign of guilt or weakness but, on the contrary, “Silence is a source of great strength.”

This is not a trivial observation. In fact, it gets to the heart of one of the problems facing the would-be warriors of the new trade war between the US and China. Unlike other rivalries (economic, geopolitical or otherwise) that we can think of in the past—the rivalry between the British Empire and the upstart Germans that formed part of the justification for The WWI Conspiracy, for instance—we are not facing a competition between two powers who share religious, ethnic, linguistic or cultural roots, but two powers who are completely separated in all those respects.

In other words, what we are facing as the US and China gear up to face off in the New Cold War™ is not merely a clash of powers. It is a Clash of Civilizations!™®©(Patent pending). (For extra fun, take a shot of hard liquor and play some over-the-top TV news theme music every time you hear someone say “Clash of Civilizations” from now on.)

If you’re rolling your eyes about the “Clash of Civilizations,” please note that this is not my formulation. It’s the US State Department’s.

Want to know more about the State Department’s framing of the US-China conflict as a “Clash of Civilizations”? And the roots of this weaponized phrase? And what this means in the bigger picture of the stage-managed Cold War 2.0? Then you’ll have to read this week’s edition of The Corbett Report Subscriber.

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