Now I think I know what it is I want to say about Jan 6.
Like most people watching that violent, hysterical, deluded invasion of the US Congress, that attempt to overthrow an election through violence – with 99% of the participants white, many of the outnumbered Capital police Afro-Americans – at first I was speechless. It’s not that you couldn’t see it coming, but when it came it was shocking.
Only forty years ago, when the Soviet Union dismantled itself , it looked like the whole world might move to democracy, that a golden age for us all might be starting. Now, democracy in the country that many people perceive as the homeland of democracy looks as if it’s ready to self-destruct.
As the chaotic 6 hour long insurrection progressed, I couldn’t help remembering a little book I read this winter, by Kishore Mahbuhani, Indian by birth but a life-long citizen of Singapore, serving many years as their ambassador to the United Nations – Has the West Lost it?
Mahbuhani documents the slow moral and economic decline of the West – both North America and Europe – during the past 40 years, while in the far east things were getting steadily better.
What, he asks, was the most important historical event in 2001? Almost all Americans would answer 9/11, but that wasn’t it. No, it was China’s admission to the WTO (World Trade Organization). The entry of a billion new workers into the global market changed the world economy profoundly.
In North America ‘real wages’ (adjusted for inflation) have been declining since 1973, but the East has been going the other way. China’s explosive rise, he says, has helped lift all boats in the east – for example:
Bangladesh – famously called a ‘basket case’ by Henry Kissinger in 1971 when it was fighting to separate from Pakistan – he said it would never survive on its own – has had steady growth over last 20 yrs & the World Bank predicts it will achieve ‘middle income’ status in 2021.
The West in the meantime distracted itself, and set out bankrupting itself, with wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, while,
For the majority of us [in Asia], the past three decades – 1990 to 2020 – have been the best in human history.
But Mahbuhani doesn’t want a world dominated by China. He would rather see a world where humanity as a whole prospers. But for that to happen, he says, the West has to come to its senses. At the end of his book, he finishes with this:
This is why this book is intended …. as a gift to the West. It reminds the West how much it has done to elevate the human condition higher than ever before. And it would be a great tragedy if the West were to be the world’s primary instigator of turbulence and uncertainty at the hour of humanity’s greatest promise. If this were to happen, future historians will be puzzled that the most successful civilization in human history failed to exploit the greatest opportunity ever presented to humanity. A simple dose of Machiavelli is what we need to save the West and the Rest. Otherwise, the West really has lost it.
Today Mahbuhani must be thinking, “I told you so.”