In a previous essay I published in August, I wrote on the technification of social relations in China and how this is threatening to creep into western societies. This process of Sinification was a concept I touched on but didn’t flesh out in greater detail. Events since then, mainly the election of President Joe Biden and the ambitions of his administration, have provided more clarity as to the direction the West in general could be taking over the coming decade.
Sinification refers to the process pursued by the Chinese Communist Party (‘CCP’) after the Cultural Revolution to rebuild the social fabric of China. Having violently severed China from its ‘backward and pre-modern’ history and culture, the CCP needed a replacement for the intellectual dark matter and social technologies they had destroyed and that had formed the glue of society. China has since been a low trust society, with the state having to take a heavy-handed and direct approach to arbitration and litigation. China’s vast surveillance network is often seen as an overextension of human tyranny, but it is also a pragmatic response to the fact that where social technologies cannot govern people’s interactions, the state must literally watch every interaction to ensure social stability.
Another aspect of sinification is the preference for raw violence over elegant violence. Raw violence is often employed by what popular academic political science departments call “authoritarian regimes”. This includes incarceration of political opponents, prevention and crushing of protests, the physical intimidation, assault, and murder of opponents, and so on. This commonly includes countries like China, Russia, and Saudi Arabia (among others), although western governments can resort to this (see the French government’s response to protests).
Elegant violence is often employed by what pop polisci calls “democratic governments”, who are preferred to “authoritarian regimes” because the former does not employ raw violence. What is usually left out is that this is because they employ elegant violence instead. Elegant violence employs ‘soft’ coercive measures such as using carrot-and-stick incentives, blackmail, aggressive counter positioning, and so on. The employment of elegant violence usually requires a deep understanding of the complex social fabric of a society to understand which nodes (i.e. individuals or organisations) can be used or targeted to achieve a desired outcome. Countries like Saudi Arabia are quite adept at using elegant violence through the balancing, countering, and pitting against each other of various tribes.
One of the most ancient requirements for rulership is an intimate understanding of the customs, laws, and history of the people. A competent elite holds a lot of soft knowledge with which it can navigate the field of power and society to settle feuds, create deals, and distribute and maintain power in a very delicate web of social relations. As rulers become more distant from their people, both culturally and geographically, this soft knowledge starts to decline. This usually happens in states that are either transforming from a smaller, homogenous polity into a heterogenous imperial polity, or in states that are in decline. In both situations, elegant violence gives way to raw violence.
Owing to the decline in competent governance and statecraft, western elites have lost touch and sight of the social technologies and complex social networks of the local and regional inhabitants and cultures, preferring exclusive club membership of the global elite. A New Yorker has less in common with an Michiganer than he does with a Londoner.
Intimacy turns into distance, which turns into alienation, and finally into derision and conflict. We are now entering the derision stage where political elites have foregone understanding those outside their loyal voter base and engage in mockery of their customs, hostility towards their political considerations, and are showing a willingness to employ the full Schmittian friend-enemy distinction by declaring swathes of the alienated as ‘domestic terrorists’ as a justification for the deployment of raw violence.
Why have they adopted these tools? It’s not simply a fetish for greater power, but also a desperate reach to claw back control. The relative stability of western nations over the past few decades was only rudely intruded upon in moments such as 9/11 and the 2008 financial crisis, but it was only in 2020 with the coronavirus and global quarantine measures that the cracks in the edifice of our states have been totally exposed.
“Only a crisis - actual or perceived - produces real change. When that crisis occurs, the actions that are taken depend on the ideas that are lying around. That, I believe, is our basic function: to develop alternatives to existing policies, to keep them alive and available until the politically impossible becomes the politically inevitable.”
- Milton Friedman
That crisis was the coronavirus, and the ideas lying around were those swiftly implemented by a competent CCP elite to control the virus within months of it becoming known to the world. For the first time, the western elite were facing a true crisis to which they had no answer. So, they reached for the ideas that were lying down – those placed there by the CCP in its rapid response. But sinification from without isn’t the only set of tools western elites are employing today.
Alongside the sinification that has proceeded from the events of 2020, there is an even greater threat to civil liberties, particularly in America – although one thing we have learned is that what happens in America happens later across the West. That is Donald Trump’s tenure as President, the social forces that unleashed and were unleashed by him, and the response of the media, academia, Biden-led government, and now the military all murmuring the phrase: domestic terrorism.
If the coronavirus was a shocking event revealing a greater (but not full) extent of the rot in public institutions resulting in the haphazard embrace of sinification, then the embrace of domestic terrorism as a genuine threat is the logical conclusion of over a decade of deepening hostilities and the array of tools America has assembled over the past few decades to deal with ‘global terrorism’.
In short, unlike sinification which was imported from abroad, the concept of domestic terrorism is a native manufacture of America, which has been successfully exported globally and is now used by governments from the UAE to China itself to employ raw violence against their Muslim populations. Likewise, American elites had to maintain the pretense of understanding their own citizens while completely dispensing with this notion and embracing raw violence when dealing with foreign populations. This is now coming full circle as this worldview and its accompanying practices are being deployed on American soil against American citizens. Why? Because of the destruction of America’s social fabric and the loss of soft knowledge among the elites.
The Last Brunch
My argument is simple: western elites have both imported tools of oppression from foreign states as well as developed their own homegrown variety (hitherto for foreign worlds, now repurposed for domestic deployment).
The Biden administration is an interesting assemblage of characters from the glory days of American empire between the fall of the USSR and the 2008 financial crisis. Bushers, Clintonites, and even Obamans now mingle in the corridors of imperial power, though their lights are much dimmer as of late. Basically, anyone and everyone who got it wrong on pretty much every political, economic, and social question since the 1990s across several administrations are now together; the American elite gather for one last brunch before the music stops.
Unfortunately, it seems they believe they can simply roll back time to the heady days of Obama. When another crisis occurs, even this belief may finally wither and die, and the brunch comes to an end. What happens then may be the collapse of the final leg of a chair with rotten foundations. Left with no elegant tools, raw violence will become even more explicit, and the sinification of the West is complete.