(I wrote this one a while ago and felt I should resurface it. It's a companion piece to this one: On Language and Games – the Wittgensteinian Fly From a Bottle. Cheers)
During the final stages of reviewing my article on China, its sustainable urgency, and its formative free speech needs, and until now, I constantly worry about the meaning lost in the linear mindset that people often bring to the analytical table. The story of my life: getting lost on a straight road because I walk in circles, and I am never to be found again.
Here’s the problem: I believe there is an ontological gap between the east and the west and this gap manifests itself in many different ways. The most obvious is in language—the meaning and intent problem—what precisely is meant not well understood, and what is intended are completely incompatible at times. Between China and its western observers, there often exists an animosity precisely because we failed to understand each other and discrepancies are explained as errors. In terms of sustainability, there can be no greater debauchery than stopping progress for the sake of debating who is right and who is wrong and who should correct their errors. But does it really matter that we come from different places? Or is it the “forward compatibility” more important.
I believe there is a higher ground. Beyond talking pass each other and settling in and out of courts, there exist a possibility of learning from each other. The form of that possibility must be preserved. In essence, there can be no understanding if the mechanisms of that understanding are subject to component control; rather, meaning and intent can only approach a common context when the mechanisms are subject to universal standards. By “mechanism” I mean this amorphous thing that governs syntax and logic, but is escaped by substantive content. It is not logic per se, that is obvious enough (there should be no surprises that mathematics is a common and universal language we all understand), but is something more: the thing that governs logic and syntax has a holistic component encompassing the time, place, and manner of what is communicated.
(It’s interesting to note the American free speech jurisprudence makes this distinction clearly—protecting less of content neutrality giving deference to time, place, and manner type regulations. What I argue is that the opposite will apply to China, protecting more content neutrality, that time, place, and manner regulations should be subject to the most strictest scrutiny, and less of substantive matters—the meaning understood is thus a private matter entirely within the listener’s mind and the speaker bears no duty to that end. In effect, each speaker is now an artist, using the Chinese language to fabricate a common understanding of course of governance unique to its locality. But I digress.)
My article argues for this mechanism protection in China to allow more grassrooted growth in terms of sustainability transformation—precisely the protection needed for the people to reclaim a private governance of their affairs in the order of things. The central government still retains substantive control for security and stability sake, but the people are empowered to cooperate, learn, and develop real solutions. It is my hope that the rest of the world understand this unique need of China’s rule of law (and consequently sustainable) developments; and it is my hope that the rest of the world will understand how to play this Chinese linguistic game in its societies and help the Chinese create real local solutions that will have global impacts.
That is, until I read an article on how “sustainability and green economy” have nothing to do with the reality.
In an recent article on Deutsche Welle(a German media), Ms. Auma Obama (sociologist and half-sister of Mr. Barack Obama) stated that
“there are many people in this world who are so poor that thinking about a more ecological and sustainable way of living is a luxury they cannot afford. These people face the challenge of how to overcome poverty. Air pollution and over-fertilisation, for example, mean nothing to them.”
Ms. Obama claims
“'Sustainable' only means that a situation continues over a long period. And that can also be negative! Just think about sustainable poverty and social imbalance. So, the word only makes sense if you define in what way someone wants to take ecological, social and economical responsibility.
But again, the question is: Who can afford that? The people in Kenya that I am working with have to fight to meet their basic needs. And after that, they fight to not fall back into poverty again.”
This made me realize that there is a good deal of people in the world that do not think of the world as a changing process. They see the world as a static, universal, Leibnizian best of all possible, sort of thing. This is the vestige of Judeo-Christian tradition and there is nothing I can do about it. To them, the world is now and forward compatibility means conforming to their system of their mechanisms. There is no adapting, no becoming, no process of achieving a better world tomorrow because, as Leibniz famously defended, there is only one and best possible world—this one now.
So I can scream on the top of my lungs for China’s “order of things” to manifest through a universal understanding of mechanisms, but at the end of the day it requires the presumption of that mechanism in place for the game play. There are just those people who don’t want to play I guess.
But I must warn you, Ms. Obama’s line of thinking leads invariable to a question: what must be done about it?
"Green economy is a western term meaning that the economy has to become more environmentally friendly. However, often that doesn't come up in African countries. The majority of people struggle for survival every single day. If you talk to these people about green economy they will ask 'what is in it for me? In what way will my life change?' Often these questions are left unanswered."
The mere asking "what must we do about it" leads to the dangerous road of conforming to the old ways of doing things and mass producing Africa out of poverty. We see China’s successes in this arena and we also see its aftermath—environmental pollutions, health problems, and social unrest. Must we repeat this in Africa?
So while I agree with Ms. Obama that
We try to explain to these people that they can help themselves and that they have to utilize the resources that they have. . . . [That] we tell our people that above all they have to be able to rely on themselves. These people know their own problems best and they also know how these problems can be solved.
I must point out: in order to achieve this, our fundamental think has to change and we must come to appreciation for differences in substantive appreciation and the need for universal recognition of a mechanism that preserves the game of communication and understanding. Otherwise we spiral our way to the best of our incompatible futures.