Watching all these big sports clubs scrambling to appease the Chinese regime, and punish the coaches and players who don’t bow and scrape — Arsenal being the most recent of these — I find myself singing, “If Adolf Hitler flew in today / They’d send a limousine anyway.”
The meaning is so obvious: “The black clothes represent Hong Kong, the mask represents Hong Kong, the Molotov cocktail represents Hong Kong, what else here doesn’t represent Hong Kong???”
But the artist who drew this, Rafael Grampá, is Brazilian, and Brazil has had its recent moments of social unrest: Why couldn’t it be about Brazil? The comics company, D.C., is American: Why couldn’t it be about the various protest movements that have succeeded Occupy Wall Street? (Batwoman = black bloc.) Of course, the Hong Kong protesters have learned from those movements. They’re not the only ones, though.
Why couldn’t the image be about … Batwoman?
We don’t even know when the image was drawn, or the story it illustrates written. Since the appearance of my book The Year of Our Lord 1943, I have received several emails from people noting, either approvingly or critically, its obvious subtextual commentary on Christian participation in the political events of 2016. The only problem with this assumption: I signed the original contract for that book in 2013, and had largely finished it before the last Presidential election. People don’t think about matters like the time-frame for the publication of books when they discern correspondences with whatever is at or near the forefront of their minds.
Years and years ago a student told me that his high-school English teacher had explained to her classes that Robert Frost’s “Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening” is about Santa Claus — Santa indulging in a contemplative moment before resuming his duties. For he has promises to keep, and miles to go before he sleeps. It all fits.
And it does fit. Sort of. Close enough for a reader to be pleased when she discerns the correspondence. Such a reader will be sufficiently pleased to stop asking questions, and will not wonder whether other interpretations might match the text equally well — or even better.
This is the curious doubled character of the human impulse towards interpretation. We delight in interpreting, but we delight even more in bringing interpretation to a satisfying end. We want to do it, and we want to be done with it.
I thought this day was coming, but I didn’t expect it to come so soon. I don’t believe Beijing expected it to come so soon either: the Chinese authorities were playing a long game, biding their time and building their power, and I do not think they were relishing an immediate confrontation with Western capitalism. But the Hong Kong protests forced their hand. Beijing clearly perceives these protests as an existential threat, and have decided that the moment has come to go all-in. They have pushed all their chips into the center of the table … and the capitalists immediately folded like a Chinese-made lawn chair.
NBA officials are bowing and scraping to Beijing and begging forgiveness while trying to tell Americans that they’re not really apologizing. (Adam Silver says he’s not apologizing for Daryl Morey’s exercise of free speech, but then what is he apologizing for?) ESPN/Disney is muzzling its employees. Apple is banning apps that Beijing wants banned, for whatever reason.
This has all gone better for Beijing than CCP officials probably dared hope, but in fact they held the strongest hand. Tim Cook, who got his job as Apple CEO after spending years proving that he was a wizard of the supply chain, knows better than anyone that China has a stranglehold on Apple’s supply chain, and it would take years or even decades to loosen that hold. I don’t know how much revenue the NBA gets from China, but even if it’s far less than they get in this country, that Chinese revenue can be cut off altogether in an instant; by contrast, not one American NBA fan in ten thousand will care enough about what happens in China to stop buying jerseys and tickets and League Pass.
If nothing else, this whole shameful display should put an end, once and for all, to the ridiculous idea that there is some natural and intrinsic connection between democracy and capitalism. There very obviously ain’t. When shareholders and the bottom line are not benefitted by democracy, then democracy gets flushed down the toilet. American big business has firmly decided for a totalitarian regime and against people who want democratic freedoms. The business of America really is business after all.
But here’s an interesting question: How woke will our woke capitalists remain if an emboldened Chinese regime starts to rail against moral perversion in the form of homosexuals and trans people?
“Believe me, the China situation bothers me. . . . But at the end of the day, I have a responsibility to my owners to make money,” then–NBA commissioner David Stern said in a 2006 interview. He may not have known then where his allegiance to the bottom line would lead the league and the game he helped to grow.
To hear him tell it then, Stern was intent on turning the NBA into an exporter of American values. Under his leadership, the league began its “Basketball Without Borders” program, which initially sent NBA players to run basketball camps in geopolitically tense parts of the world. “NBACares” television spots dominated game breaks. “We’re going to keep right on showing them,” Stern told Sports Illustrated when asked about public annoyance with the frequency of the ads. “Because social responsibility is extremely important to us.”
You know it was an article of faith for Stern that “make money” and “social responsibility” could never come into irreconcilable conflict with each other. No doubt Adam Silver and Tim Cook have been similarly catechized. But their religion is in vain, so what will they do? They’ll keep making money and tell themselves that they are also socially responsible, no matter what happens on the ground. For faith is the evidence of things not seen.
UPDATE 2: Paul Farmer, in Tracy Kidder’s Mountains Beyond Mountains, on WLs (White Liberals): “I love WLs to death, they’re on our side. But WL’s think all the world’s problems can be fixed without any cost to themselves.” (More about Farmer, on related themes, here.)
Adam Silver is standing by NBA employees’ free speech rights, though he doesn’t sound happy about it. “Daryl Morey, as general manager of the Houston Rockets, enjoys that right [to speak his political views] as one of our employees. What I also tried to suggest is that I understand there are consequences from his freedom of speech and we will have to live with those consequences.” He also made sure to emphasize how deeply he “sympathizes” with Chinese companies that angry.
Let’s be clear about what Silver sympathizes with. A Chinese broadcasting company replied to Silver’s statement thus: “We’re strongly dissatisfied and oppose Adam Silver’s claim to support Morey’s right to freedom of expression. We believe that any remarks that challenge national sovereignty and social stability are not within the scope of freedom of speech.” That is, people who are citizens of countries other than China, who speak while in their own countries, should be governed not by the laws of those countries but by the preferences of China. That is the view that Adam Silver sympathizes with.
UPDATE: Ben Thompson makes a rather obvious point, though one I had neglected: The statement by Daryl Morey that so profoundly offended Chinese officials was made on Twitter — which is banned in China. Thompson continues by demonstrating how Chinese censorship works on TikTok, and near the end of the post writes,
The government response is also critical: I already argued that CFIUS should revisit TikTok’s acquisition of Music.ly; the current skepticism around all Chinese investment in the United States should be continued if not increased. Attempts by China to leverage market access into self-censorship by U.S. companies should also be treated as trade violations that are subject to retaliation. Make no mistake, what happened to the NBA this weekend is nothing new: similar pressure has befallen multiple U.S. companies, often about content that is outside of China’s borders (Taiwan and Hong Kong, for example, being listed in drop-down menus for hotels or airlines).
The Chinese have developed a state system run by a technocratic elite of highly educated bureaucrats under party control. This is China’s age-old imperial system in modern form. The attraction that western-style democracy and free-market capitalism may have exercised on this elite has now withered. They stressed the failure of western states to invest in their physical or human assets, the poor quality of many of their elected leaders and the instability of their economies. One participant added that “90 per cent of democracies created after the fall of the Soviet Union have now failed”. This risk is not to be run.
All this has increased confidence in China’s unique model. Yet this does not mean a return to a controlled economy. On the contrary, as a participant remarked: “We believe in the fundamental role of the market in allocating resources. But government needs to play a decisive role. It creates the framework for the market. The government should promote entrepreneurship and protect the private economy.” One participant even insisted that the new idea of a “core leader” could lead to strong government and economic freedom.
This is by no means an irrational take on the global state of affairs. I wish it were.