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Freedom vs. Despotism
陈凯一语： Kai Chen's Words:
Law and order only exist in those countries that are free, for in those countries every individual's mind is free who only obeys reason and God.
Freedom, Law and Order vs. Despotism and Chaos
On Misconceptions among the Chinese Masses to Equate Freedom with Chaos
By Kai Chen 陈凯 (Written 3/22/2006, Reprint 9/29/2011)
The most common misconception and misperception among the Chinese masses, and for that matter, among most countries in the world with totalitarian, authoritarian and despotic regimes, cultures and traditions, is that people in such a country cannot afford freedom and democracy, for such an introduction will definitely cause chaos, destruction and misery.
I don’t know how many times I have to debate that very issue with common Chinese folks. Some of them even conclude that the Communist government is right in gunning down the innocent students and protestors in Tiananmen Square in that fateful day of 1989. The reason behind their conviction is that the Chinese people are too ignorant, uneducated and too poor to afford such introduction of the concept of freedom and democracy into Chinese society. And the implicit conclusion is that they need someone strong and powerful, someone with guns over their head for them to be scared into submission. Then and only then, the society can have some order.
Empirical evidence seems to support their claim. All the newly democratized countries from the Soviet club have experienced certain degree of disorder and chaos, some, such as Yugoslavia, even broke into a civil war that caused bloodshed, destruction and misery. Russia is another example often quoted in their argument against freedom for China. They argue that Russia’s economy is doing much worse than China’s who combined authoritarianism with market reform. On the surface and at first glance, these arguments seem to take hold. But taking a deeper look, they all fall apart. The reality is often, if not always, the opposite of what they see and thus it is the misperception and misconception of the concept of freedom and liberty that caused their short-sighted and warped views about their own future.
It is NOT freedom that has caused these chaotic and destructive situations. On the contrary, it is the LACK of freedom and liberty that has caused the misery.
Almost without exception, all of these countries, including China, traditionally and culturally, lack the very foundation on which freedom and liberty take roots – the concept of individuality and humanity.
All the countries mentioned above misconstrue that freedom somehow is only attached to a group, a society, a country, a congregation and a collective. When I was in China, the most famous poem was one by a Hungarian poet:
Life is valuable.
Love is even more precious.
But if for freedom’s sake I have to choose.
I would rather abandon the first two.
A beautiful poem, isn’t it. It reads like Patrick Henry’s “Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death”. But all my teachers in China and all the communist propaganda machines told me again and again: This poem is about a nation’s freedom, a race’s freedom, and a collective’s freedom. We are reminded everyday that “We are everything and I am nothing without We.” The Chinese old saying even stresses: “If the big river has water, the small streams will be full; if the big river is dry, the small streams will be dry too.” Contrary to the truth in the nature, somehow we never asked the question where the water in the big river comes from, if not from the small streams. “As a drop of water, we individuals are nothing, just like without joining the ocean, we have no meaning and will be vaporized by the sun.” “A brick without adding one to another to build the Great Wall is meaningless”. Sayings like these were everywhere, are everywhere in China.
Somehow all the despots and authoritarians sense instinctively that individuals without meaning are fundamental to maintaining their grip on power. They understand freedom without individual is much like music without melody, living without life, survival without existence, entities without essence. So they mobilize every ounce of their energy to extract this fundamental element in the concept of freedom. And yes indeed they have succeeded, to a very large degree, in muddling the water and confusing people’s mind. I always wondered why the water in the Yellow River is so muddy. Now I realize that muddled heads will produce muddy water, polluted sky, desolate mountains, and dehumanized populace.
The chaos in the former Soviet blocs after the communism is gone is NOT caused by liberated individuals. It is caused by the loss of identity and a new find of another warped identity of individuals from one vicious group, i.e. the class-struggle oriented communism, to another vicious group, such as racial, religious, ethnic… Individual mind is still enslaved and minimized. Collective values are still instilled and reinforced. Nothing has fundamentally changed. So bloodshed will continue, the chaos will continue, the misery will continue. The lack of freedom continues.
The legitimacy of individual self-interest is inseparable from the concept of individuality. Bees collecting honey is NOT for the flowers, it is for their own livelihood. Flowers opening their fragrant blossoms are NOT for the bees, it is for their own procreation. Yet through the God-given order of this free and magnificent arrangement and association, everyone benefited. Yet the entire totalitarian and authoritarian regimes first task to solidify their grip on power is to criminalize self-interest, and demonize capitalism and free market, to disrupt and destroy this marvelous arrangement. Making every individual in society feel guilty about their own private yearnings, desires, dreams and personal goals is a must in these despotic societies. They understand without individuals and these faculties attached to the individuals, freedom is an empty word, a tree without wood and roots. Fostering an anti-individual culture that can last will further their goal of monopolizing power. So they invent hierarchy and social classes, and each and every individual’s first and foremost identity is not with themselves, but with something outside of themselves – classes, races, ethnic groups, religious groups, gender groups, age groups… etc.
Yet, all the despots have failed to understand the undeniable truth: By denying and eliminating the concept of individual, they have also effectively eliminated the very possibility of establishing law and order in society. All the despotic societies are societies of chaos. Containment of individuals does help maintain their power in the short term, but chaos and disarray is in the making. And revolutions, civil wars, riots and perpetual dynastic cycle is the only result in chaining and shackling individuals, shutting their mouths, poisoning their mind. The example of arranged marriage demonstrates that the superficial peace and calm within an enslaved arrangement fosters resentment, discontent, mental disorder and outright murder and violence. The movie “Raise the Red Lantern” reveals just such a scenario. An enslaved populace by the Party-state in China shows you exactly the same scenario. People in such an enslaved arrangement refuse to take any personal, individual responsibility, since in their rationality, nothing is theirs and everything is the collective’s. Destruction of environment, depletion of natural resources, blind and sadistic trampling of other individuals’ dignity and property have become common place. Everyone resents everyone else. And their sense of happiness is defined by others misery. Eventually, this venomous cultural soup will boil to a degree of uncontrollable outburst of violence and destruction. The penned up energy will release itself in a directionless explosion that destroys everything in existence.
Another dynasty comes to an end. A temporary euphoria prevails with a sense of false liberation. Then the reality sets in. The population realizes that they are groups of people without any mechanism for construction, creation and production, without any direction in life. They need oppression to function, for they lack Self-Governing ability. They need another emperor to restore the repressive order – a self defeating arrangement to have a momentary peace and calm. They need not their own individual faculties and deep faith in justice and truth, they need only another savior to save them from the endless bitter sea. Another dynasty is established. History does not move forward with a direction. History repeats itself. Mindless groups again eliminate mindful and soulful individuals. And only the mindless and soulless flesh and blood remains and gets ready to sacrifice their physical existence to build yet another Great Wall.
Truth is simple but excruciatingly painful.
I personally have met many Chinese who deplore the current state of affairs in China. Desperation, helplessness and hopelessness are the only words to describe their mood. However, when they complain and despair, they never realize that they are not part of the solution, they are exactly part of the problem, for they still do not view themselves as meaningful existence – an indivisible, integrated, free individual with unshakeable responsibility for his own existence, and with logical extension, responsibility for building a free China. Everything starts here in ourselves and we should start now, here, in our soul, in our thinking, in our action, in our day-to-day decisions to make ourselves a better human being, a better individual with distinct yearnings and faculties for a common better tomorrow.
The most peaceful, the most productive, the most orderly societies are the freest societies. Empirical evidence has unmistakably and undeniably pointed to this direction, the direction of human freedom. Many who have come to the United States never fail to mention to me that they were so impressed and surprised to see cars observing the traffic lights, even without police around. People do not spit and pee everywhere. Politeness is the order of the day with “Thank you” and “Please” and “Sir” regardless who you are. Equality, as another extended product of individual freedom, is a norm in America. Discrimination and prejudice is frowned upon. Individual properties are secure. Difference in religion, race, gender, ethnicity, age, sexual orientation is tolerated and respected. People will not do onto others without doing onto themselves first and every request has to have the grant from others first. Honesty, genuine respect for reality, truth-seeking, meaningful debate and discussion, progress toward better future.., all have become not only accepted values in society, but promoted and propagated onto our next generations.
I have written a piece about “Candy Wrappers and Social Trust”, to depict my first experiences in American society. I will post it or mail it to you so you all can learn from my own experience.
With the concept of individual secured, freedom will take roots and flourish. And liberty and freedom will be pursued, enlarged, protected and treasured, NOT feared, loathed, demonized and escaped from. Individual responsibility to oneself will be the first in order before anyone can demand any others to be responsible to groups, society, nation… Meaning, not meaninglessness, will be restored in one’s existence. Happiness and fulfillment can finally be possible. And human potentials can be finally achieved.
A shining city on the hill is not a remote fantasy. It has already become reality in many corners of the free world. United States is at the forefront of such a shining city. And I am very proud to call myself American.