A few weeks ago, as part of an otherwise appalling course that I do at the lucre-driven Cambridge business school, we were given a problem to solve as part of a unit titled ‘negotiations workshop.’ This revolved around a game-theoretical conundrum whereby we had the opportunity to achieve what would essentially constitute full marks in the exam-based portion of the assessment. It went something like this: if we all turned up to the exam, we all had to take the exam and our grade would be exactly that warranted by our performance in the written test. If one or more of us failed to turn up, but the others did turn up, then he or she would get 0% whilst those who arrived would receive a mark of 75%-a high first class mark, in university parlance. The task was to negotiatiate, first between ourselves and then with the examiner, a means by which the maximum number of people could secure this result. Eventually, one individual said that they would forfeit their result, given that the rest of us turned up to the exam and wrote several letters each to Amnesty International regarding various individual cases of human rights abuses, using any languages in which we were fluent for specific cases in which this was warranted. Obviously, everybody agreed. Except one guy from China. Admittedly he was a bit of an oddball; numerous girls on the course have related to me stories of behaviour of his which constitutes borderline sexual harrassment. But when the Amnesty idea was mooted, he spat back, quite out of character, a reply of the most unbridled vehemence, loudly proclaiming that there was no way in hell that he would endeavour to assist an organisation that regularly criticises the human rights abuses of ‘my government.’ This was despite the fact that the cases we were looking at focused on the use of systematic rape and violence against women in Mexico and Nigeria.
Nor, apparently, was this mindset an anomaly within the milieu of the educated, affluent young middle classes raised in China; A few days later I was speaking to another, otherwise affable and sharp-witted twenty-something from Beijing who insisted that Taiwan was a province of China; it goes without saying, of course, that Tibet also came under this mantel. Now I, along with others on this site, feel no desire to hark back wistfully to the ridiculous days of the Dalai Lama’s theocracy. But what struck me about this whole espisode is that the powerful, efficient authoritarian-capitalism directed by Beijing, highlighted (though of course, markedly different terms are employed) by the IMF as glorious evidence of the poverty-alleviating potentialities of globalism has had rather worrying effects in terms of the worldview it has sought to inculcate. These guys were determined-and I have no doubt that they will achieve their goal-to become very rich investment bankers in New York, London or Frankfurt; they were very well-versed in the nuances of futures, derivatives, future and spot FX transactions, and how none of this would be possible without economic neoliberalism (they were certainly not detached from reality or ideologically divorced from the realities of political economy in this regard), but, paradoxically, spoke confusingly in terms of welfarism and equality, referred to themselves and others as ‘comrade’ (and trust me, it wasn’t ironic) and glorified the ideological pronouncements of the Chinese state. Lip-service was paid to these ideological concepts; as far as I could tell, this was all that it was. Neither of the people I spoke to in this admittedy anecdotal context had any viable idea of what this might entail or how it might be achieved. This was coupled with a crushing intolerance of and contemptuous disdain for anybody-minority ethnic groups, NGOs-even a fully-functioning, successful nation-state, for Christ’s sake-who was seen to be in defiance of what the Beijing project was all about. It would be facile simply to suggest that these intelligent and otherwise independent-minded people are ‘ideologically confused’ or to use some other insouciant, reductivist epithet; for me, it represents worrying evidence of the ideologically and socially polluting power of an ever more classically-liberal economics paired with a repressive and brutal state, official ideological pronouncements serving almost as a means by which social duty appears to be a ‘given’, already included within the wonderful all-round package of adherence to the direction of the state, whilst all the time subordinating it to an unbridled neoliberalism and fierecely repressive and reactionary instincts.