Introduction: Fiery Remarks from BAP-cast 23
In part one, we outlined the rhetorical approach of Mencius Moldbug in his “Missionary Virus.” He gently walked a disenchanted liberal through the contradictions that necessarily attend the internationalist approach to politics. In this way, he uses China as an occasion to talk about a larger theme and obstacle to thinking clearly. He convincingly showed that the United States is diseased by its choice to elevate internationalism; internationalism is a universal acid that, over time, reduces the world to indistinct mediocre beige mush. The thought of beige mush prepares us for the Bronze Age Pervert’s discussion of China; just as Moldbug saw his discussion of China as an opportunity to think through bigger questions, so too does BAP raise bigger questions than merely what the US should do about China.
China has long been on the radar of scholars of international relations. John Mearsheimer, in a book not very much worth reading (The Tragedy of Great Power Politics–his key points are summarized in this video), claims that China is rising, and that it cannot help but come into conflict with the United States while it rises. More recently, Claremont’s American Mind hosted a symposium of articles that all tried to think more broadly about how the United States can maintain some kind of edge over China. The recent upsurge in global Coronavirus cases only increases the stakes at getting the US relationship with China right. However this may be, BAP’s account of China that we find in his podcast, tweets, and book, demonstrates that there are bigger things at stake than politics. His fiery and cutting remarks are NOT mere vitriol or bluster. His book provides the spiritual, physiological, and existential rationale.
In BAP-cast 23, BAP proclaims that his book “is the most comprehensive statement against the Han and everything they stand for.” This is nothing less than a spiritual struggle against the wretchedness and vileness of the Chinese nation. Indeed, he calls for the “thunderbolts of the gods” to come down on China. He calls the Chinese a “Han blob” and praises the Koreans and Japanese for differentiating themselves from the Chinese.
On February 26th, 2020, BAP continued his paean against China through tweets. Among other things, he said: “Chyna is biohazard, everything in my book and since is true, Chyna is means by which mankind is dragged back to the human animal, to the eternal slum. Just enough IQ to bungle, slumify Western science…Wuhan miasma, collapsing buildings, 19 hr workdays are just the beginning…” If BAP is right, the stakes are extremely high. We turn to his book for a fuller account.
Barbarism, Civilization, and Chyna
In Bronze Age Mindset, BAP situates his initial longer remarks on China in a section called “Barbarism and Civilization.” BAP points out that many people praise China for having some of the first cities. This praise presupposes that cities are necessarily a sign of civilization and that civilization is simply good. BAP argues against both claims, saying that cities are often VERY bad, and that the idea of civilization is more questionable than many might suppose. To the first claim, that cities are always good or a sign of civilization, BAP says: in the Orient, the city “has always referred to a steaming pile of humanity, with crowded, fetid eateries, close-packed throngs wading through shit and the filth of animals, rabbit and hen kept in cages, abused orphans, endless drone of yelling humangs hawking wares and spitting phlegm on the street…the city in its original form, is humanity reduced to a steaming ratpile” (#36). As an aside, one only has to spend a few hours in parts of San Francisco to see that this is not a uniquely Chinese phenomenon; nonetheless, BAP might say that this is an example of the US becoming more Chinese. At any rate, BAP intends his description of ancient Chinese cities to remind you of his discussion of yeast, the lowest and least distinct form of life, earlier in the book. Thus, when BAP declares a spiritual war against the Han, he means, then, that they represent the most obvious long term example of yeastiness that seeks to engulf the world.
To elaborate some on the danger that China poses to the world, note how the Chinese responded to being conquered by others: “Slowly, with the patience that yeast enjoys because time is on its side, the Chinese would wait: ‘the day will come when this conqueror too will become exahusted, his blood spent; then he will join us, the people.’ And they were right. This is the famous assimilation of Chinese civilization, the assimilation of the exhausted and the spent. And there’s no real way to understand the Chinese other than the reduction of the human animal to mere life: they are not what you understand normally when you say ‘civilization,’ but rather a perpetual subject population, a uniform and undifferentiated blob of serfdom that seeks subjection and undermines through it” (#48).
In other words, the Chinese, fit for subjection, happily invited their conquerors in. The conquerors become the conquered by ruling over a slavish people. This was the only way for the Chinese to win and it proved to be very effective. The enemies that one has, dictate to an extent, the kind of person or nation one becomes. As BAP further mused on Twatter, what if the US had to face the Axis during the Cold War instead of the USSR? The US would have become a stronger nation. Speaking broadly, the Cold War saw the US weaponize a few of its easily spreadable values into an ideology designed to stave off the ideological influence of communism. The Axis would likely not have been as interested in spreading ideology, but in ruling others in the open, and not through proxies or ideology. The US became even more ideological and universalizing than it already was prior to WWI in order to fight a foe, the USSR, committed to the same tactics.
What does this mean for the US being in competition with China today? As BAP points out, in Buenos Aires today, you see Chinese shopkeepers, restaurant owners, etc, running businesses where they work 19 hours a day and sleep in the shop; in some cases, they utilize underpaid or even slave labor. Certainly, one might be tempted to praise such sacrifice and hard work. But what if low quality goods at low prices are the only outcome? The United States, addicted as it is to such low price and low quality goods at WallmartZ, faces grave difficulties if it ever wants to bring meaningful manufacturing jobs back. A government that cared about its people wouldn’t outsource so many necessities to China, and thus depend on it; rather, it would tax the shit of imports, depend on its own bountiful resources, and thus provide its working class with the kind of manufacturing jobs that allow them to respect themselves.
I have digressed. Up above, I pointed to how BAP rejected two claims: 1) that cities are always good and civilized, AND 2) that civilization is always good. We covered the first point, then digressed. Let’s turn to his qualified argument against civilization always being good. In taking up this part of the inquiry, we have to grasp his account of civilization and whether or not he thinks that it inevitably succumbs to yeastiness, or has a natural tendency to become yeasty. Since BAP calls to our attention the possibility that there have been many cycles of human existence, each eventually extinguished (or mostly so; there may be members of past generations underground or on the moon), we see that EACH cycle came to an end, and we might therefore look for some kind of motion or force that is endemic and fatal to civilization as such.
In one of his earlier remarks in the book on civilization, he says that, “Unfortunately in the long run the development of civilization and comfort leads to the proliferation of damaged life, the innovation of mankind leads to unspeakable abortions of life, and men on the periphery who want to preserve the natural order begin to plot the end of everything” (#27). Much later in the book, BAP points out that the Enlightenment thinkers and doers, and the American founders, in a sense, have been TOO successful: “And so the very success of the great men of four hundred years ago, their foundation of a new world, the great expansion of human knowledge and know-how…this ended up setting the stage for our trash world. They succeeded beyond what they could expect, and that success is what allowed the profusion of the lower types of mankind” (#64). To put some of this another way, the founders of modernity were were brilliant and philanthropic. They thought they could raise many men out of the default slum and deformed condition that most huemans begin in–and through unparalleled discoveries and their diffusion, many people enjoyed fulfilling lives that might not have been possible otherwise. Unfortunately the unprecedented spread of comfort in EVERY direction came with consequences: everywhere “we see that the very comforts and safety produced by the best men leads to the usurpation of society by those parts of the human spirit that are oriented instead toward a different kind of life, that everywhere that mode of the yeast wins out…and usually wins out very quickly” (#64; read #27, #36, #48, and #64 and the surrounding aphorisms as a whole)). Thus, the accomplishments of great men got beyond them, and in a deleterious way. Comfort breeds softness. The aristocrat is always in danger of becoming an oligarch; and the demos is now armed with technology and know-how they wouldn’t possess in non-democratic regimes. Civilization comes crashing down on itself.
This apparent attaq on civilization suddenly leads us to wonder: does BAP prefer barbarism in an unqualified way? Without highly developed and organized political communities, a man might find himself responsible for many challenging tasks that are required for him to survive. Because he knows that he cannot count on the state to safeguard his preservation, he learns how to acquire and make things for himself; he becomes physically capable in his own right, knowing that this is the only way he can secure his freedom from death and subjugation. Indeed, as BAP says about men on the Steppe, “they never engage in the kind of depressive introspection and questioning of life that you only see in settled and civilized peoples” (#36). In addition, BAP points to the author of the Alexiad who, in reference to the barbarians, “is in awe at their handsomeness, their bravery and often their intelligence and cunning” (#38). This observation might give us the impression that BAP simply prefers some version of barbarism. This impression while somewhat plausible, is ultimately misleading. While these barbarians may be superior to the slavish peoples of the Near East, they do not quite represent the way of life we should strive for.
Despite the beautiful praise of handsome barbarians, it may be that an uneasy and ultimately unstable synthesis of barbarism and civilization is what BAP considers optimal. Consider the following two passages: “in the small and orderly character of the cities, in the relentless concern of the aristocracy with biological quality, you see an attempt to mitigate the great evils of civilization. Actually you see an attempt to reestablish some of the character of barbaric and free life inside the city, if only for the citizen class, or the upper class. If there can be any defense of civilization it is this, that historically it gave a class the full or nearly full benefits of the free life of the steppe and forest and mountain while ridding them of some of its inconveniences–at the price, of course, of misery for the vast majority” (#36).
If I understand BAP right, he is making an argument similar to what one might find in Aristotle’s Politics about slavery and the classical household. To say things succinctly: the highest activities made possible by political life are art, politics, war, and philosophy. All four activities require that one be able to devote all of one’s vital energy to them in order to do them well–and these activities shouldn’t be pursued if they cannot be done well. Slavery is one route that provides such leisure. The modern alternative does NOT solve the problem of how to relate work, leisure, and flourishing. It just redistributes the work to everyone. So instead of some humans having leisure that allows for a complete flowering at the expense of some living miserable lives, we have redistributed the work to everyone so that NO ONE can flourish or flower and EVERYONE shares to some degree in the misery of work.
You can think of the classical household in the same way. We in the modern West tend to think within a moral matrix of individualism. Imagine, instead, conceiving of human beings as in relationships and as parts of wholes. A classical household orients itself so that one member, the husband, is able to have leisure to pursue the highest activities available to man as man. But because the classical household does not view itself through an individualistic moral matrix, the accomplishments of the husband redound to every member of the household. In this case, the household management performed by the wife is a necessary condition of the man’s leisure and accomplishment, and so her work is elevated by the end it supports. The modern egalitarian household deprives both the husband and wife and of the requisite leisure needed for excellence, requiring them to divvy up the chores between one another. Are you more excellent if you spend 4 hours a day pursuing excellence or if you spend 8? That is, the modern arrangement does not solve the problem of work and leisure, it just moves the problem around.
I take BAP to be saying, then, that when the freedom of the steppe is acquired by a select few WITHIN civilization, it is at the expense of those who live below them. Such a thing is justified in the following way: either a mass of huemans live a miserable life on their own, or they can be ruled by excellent men who provide some consolation or justification for that suffering. Some of us have had the experience of meeting resplendent humans that are just simply better than us; we can acknowledge their excellence without being jealous or covetous of it. We might find ourselves, not unreasonably, desirous of serving them. On the other hand, we all know all how degrading it is to serve someone we know is worse than us.
Coming back to China, then, we can say that they seek to take away the possibility of freedom or the steppe within civilization. They encourage the worst tendencies of the West, leading the West to depend ever more on them for gravely important necessities–90% of the material required for manufacturing pharmaceutical drugs are in China. There are terrifying videos online of the Chinese torturing citizens for speaking out against the regime. Such things seem ALMOST unimaginable here today, that is, until we remember that cities all over the US are adding diversity officers. That you can lose your job for writing or saying something that pushes against the new diversity regime points in this direction. All of a sudden, it does not seem altogether unlikely that 20 years from now, Google will turn its records over to the Department of Homeland Anti-Racism…
Conclusion: The Will of Chyna and the Will of the West
However this may be, we cannot forget what BAP says in BAP-cast 16 about the Chinese. The future will belong to nations with the will to close their borders when millions flee adverse conditions in the Middle East or Africa. China likely has the will to let millions or even hundreds of millions die at their doorstep with indifference. China does NOT believe in human rights in any sense of the word. Undoubtedly, both Europe and the US are selective about which human rights abuses to pay attention to or on which ones really matter, but the concern with human rights can leave them with one or both hands tied behind their backs. Their moral obsession with avoiding being involved at all with something that whiffs of genocide, and progressives will call closing borders in such a situation genocide, could see the West destroyed. China enforces its borders and is willing to put its Muslim population into re-education camps in order to make them properly “Chinese.” However one conceives of those actions, it is radically opposed to the way that the US handles its own internal affairs and borders.
Does the West have the stomach to survive?