Sunday, August 19, 2012

The Kind of Mobilizing Public Diplomacy 21st Century America Does Not Need

The Kind of Mobilizing Public Diplomacy 21st America Does Not Need 
(the most unsettling aspects of below article highlighted).

Zheng: Public diplomacy 'involves the whole nation' - Li huiru,

In his opening speech titled "Public diplomacy involves all of us," Zheng Wantong, vice chairman of the National Committee of the CPPCC, said China's soft power initiatives must build "a solid domestic base" before they can be effective abroad.

Comparing China's public diplomacy to sports activities, where both professionals and public support are critical to success, Zheng addressed a group of top government officials, international affairs experts, and media professionals at the 2012 Charhar public diplomacy conference in Zhangjiakou, Hebei province on Aug. 18.

"Public diplomacy needs professional diplomats to safeguard national sovereignty and interests," Zheng said. "It also requires the participation of the whole nation to showcase and define the country's image."

China's public diplomacy traditions have distinctive characteristics, Zheng said, dating back to the early liberation period when China carried out person-to-person diplomacy to promote exchanges with foreign countries and to consolidate the international united front against aggression and expansionism.

Reviewing the evolution of the Western public diplomacy, Zheng concluded that public diplomacy is becoming an undertaking which involves the whole nation. He mentioned three trends. First, the internet has become a new method and tool for the developed countries to carry out public diplomacy. Second, common people now play a role as active participants in public diplomacy, instead of serving as an audience for it. Third, local governments, NGOs and multinational corporations have gradually become the important carriers of public diplomacy.

To promote China's public diplomacy efforts, Zheng suggested the government copy the example of the country's National Fitness Regulations to develop a public diplomacy strategy which mobilizes the whole nation. Under the guidance of the professional diplomats, with the promulgation of social elites, working together with the general public, a public diplomacy human resource system will gradually be built, he said. He also stressed the CPPCC's important role in pushing forward public diplomacy. He also encouraged the NGOs and multinational corporations to get involved in the public diplomacy in ways which play to their strengths. Additionally, researchers, especially in the fields of diplomacy and international relations, should place more emphasis on the theoretical and practical study of the public diplomacy. Zheng Wantong image from article

I cannot help but think: Was Zhen Wanton influenced by the following book, Kenneth Osgood, Total Cold War: Eisenhower's Secret Propaganda Battle at Home and Abroad?

Saturday, August 18, 2012


As I compile a blog on public diplomacy (and its problematical relationship to propaganda), why is it that I regularly see Nazi, when referred to in the plural, cited as Nazi's? Thats -- sorry, I meant that's -- one more example of my concern with Americans' inability (in a society that prides itself on its precision) to use the apostrophe correctly (a fact of life in the USA that is still a mystery to me). Please see (if you're at all interested) my piece on the subject.

At least this guy (below) can punctuate. No wonder hes an all-American nut with a whatyamacallit after about on his sign

-Image from

A Perceptive Interview about "Pussy Riot" with Slavicist Kevin M.F. Platt

What Does Pussy Riot Mean in Russian? - Marc Herman, Pacific Standard

Image from article, with caption: Nadezhda Tolokonnikova of Pussy Riot (Photo by Denis Bochkarev)

Friday, August 10, 2012

The Peri-Pathetics and Olympic Fame

As we in recent days are being bombarded by Olympic images on the tube/social media, with the glorification (I won't say Nazi-like) of physically-pushed/exhausted "winners," and of "the most medal-winning" nations, I have a modest proposal for the next Olympics for NBC's sport broadcasts to the world:

1. Included in the 2016 Olympics program, there should be a non-competition, in a lovely park/garden (preferably with fountains), of persons just promenading, enjoying gentle physical movement at leisurely pace suiting their age/inclinations.

2. The conversation of these peripatetics, if they would so allow to be named, could be gently (may I repeat the word "gentle," as an adverb) recorded/filmed (without brain-busting soundbites), touching on subjects beyond "I've been working out since age five"; "I'm so grateful to my coach for getting the best out of me"; "My single-parent Mom made it possible for me to be a gold-winner." The peripatetics might, like ancient philosophers, talk about such things as truth and the meaning of life -- or, to spice things up a bit, their favorite culinary delights.

3. Advertisements, in this segment of the Olympics (the Olympics did begin in TV-ad-free ancient Greece, from which the peripatetics also originated) would be omitted, a welcome (to some) reprieve from corporations pushing their wares (you name them) through athletes/athletics. The peripatetics would not endorse any brand, but simply be themselves, by sharing their ideas/impressions as they gently walk.

4. There would, of course, be no planned awards ceremony in the peripatetics' event, but those taking part in its promenade (held, as I said, in a lovely garden, preferably with fountains), would be provided with a free Kindle version of Plato's dialogues if Kindle does in fact provide this service at no charge.

5. Speaking of Plato, may I say the peripatetic event would be followed by -- or should I say continued -- by a symposium, where the promenaders would share, in a moderate fashion, luscious food and drink (not ordered from McDonalds-junk-clown-crap), with them continuing their conversations. Would press be allowed? Ask the idiosyncratic peripatetics.

6. Then, after the symposium, the peripatetics, to refresh themselves and engage in gentle exercise, would go for what was once known as a "constitutional," a pleasant walk that helps gentle digestion and gentle social interaction.

7. At an early evening hour, the peripatetics would retire to their quarters, have another glass of wine, speculate on the meaning of life, go to sleep and dream.

8. The next morning, the peripatetics would again go for a walk, only to be assaulted (surprise!) by an aggressive NBC rep, with a screeching voice like chalk on a blackboard, knocking at their door and shouting: HEY GUYS YOU'VE WON EVERYTHING BUT A GOLD MEDAL! THEY LOVE YOU ON TEE-VEE/TWITTER/FACEBOOK!"

9. Then, the peripatetics, energized by their sudden fame, would agree to be "anchor guests" on NBC sports news. They would appear on sound-bite talk shows, talking about Plato, with the obligatory commercial breaks screaming about "Get Your Plate-OH -- the best calorie-free snack in the world, used by the sexy Olympics peripatetics."

10. At the White House, the peripatetics would get honorary gold medals from our no-nonsense President, who would say: "I know you guys don't want medals, but you deserve them. God bless America." And the peripatetics, smiling, would flash their gold medals to the whole of America, showing rotten teeth they cannot afford to get fixed in the Land of the Free.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

China speculations

I know nothing about China, its culture or language. I've never been there. All I know is that my silly blog on public diplomacy is blocked there.

I know nothing, to repeat, about China, but I have a sense from my twentieth-century experience that the real twenty-first century systemic "breakdown" will occur not in the USA, but in Communist China.

Red China is a catastrophe waiting to happen. The party elite ripping off the population -- essentially exploiting "cheap" labor in exchange for dollars from the West -- has only very limited time to stay in power before the people say, "enough is enough." Stop exploiting/stealing from us!

At one point, "ordinary" Chinese, led on my cyberwise youth, will say: Get rid of the commie bastards! And the system will come crumbling down.

"China spring"? Not out of the question.

And it's not inconceivable that "China," as a geographical expression, will break up, much as Yugoslavia did.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

USSR Flashback

It's funny how, for some Americans like myself involved in the Cold War "struggle," USSR "flashbacks" occur now and then in the very country that, according to pop-Hegelian Francis Fukuyama in his adolescent phase, ended history on behalf of democracy and capitalism -- I refer to our beloved USA. Most of my US Foreign Service career was spent in Eastern/Central Europe; I specialized in Russian history in graduate school and studied in Leningrad in the early 1970s.

Today, after reading with much delight on the Internet about the well-deserved accolades regarding the engineering feats of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in brilliantly succeeding (at a price tag of $2.5 billion, paid for by the taxpayer) the "Curiosity" probe to land on Mars, I headed to the Van Ness/UDC Metro station in the District of Columbia (where I happily live, but at far too excessive cost) for transportation to an appointment downtown, proud, as I should be, of being an American, given that "we," in the form of a robot far smarter than ourselves, had just landed on Mars in great scientific style.

As I entered the poorly-lighted "Metro" (why is it not simply called a "subway"? Does DC have something against NY?), I noticed (as I'm sure many other commuters did) that two of the three main elevators of the station were not functioning. This minor but frustrating incompetence in providing basic public transportation services, of course, happens all the time in the imperial capital.

So, mentally stimulated by the impressive success of "Curiosity" and the failure of the DC metro (the "new normal"), I had yet another USSR flashback, a not infrequent occurrence on my part living in America in recent years.

This was just like the old Soiuz ("Union"), I once more told myself, a DC "colony" inhabitant. (For foreign readers: DC is not a state, and therefore does not have complete representation in Congress).

In our neglect of public transportation -- planetary exploration seems far more important, or at least from a "news/federal funding-making" perspective -- we're becoming just like Russia! (We Americans, God bless our ignorant souls, can't tell the difference between Russia and the USSR -- a failure of Russian public diplomacy in the United States?)

In all fairness, the metro system in the Soiuz was not to be sneezed at  -- but, as I walked down (very carefully) the steep, somehow pleasantly motionless DC escalators stairs (so badly lighted that someone falling off them is an accident just waiting to happen), I could not resist but to sing (silently, to myself) the Soviet (inter) national anthem as an inspiring reminder of institutional incompetence.

I felt proud, here in America, to be a self-proclaimed honorary Soviet citizen.

We made it to Mars! Forget the escalators! It's the hooligans/terrorist spies who conspired to sabotage our great socialist escalator achievements!

We spectacularly fulfilled the plan on the Red -- yes Red! -- planet! The East (better put, the entire universe) is red! The world admires us!

Hurrah! Hurrah! Hurrah!, I repeated to myself sotto voce when I reached, somewhat out of breath, the bottom of the escalator, imitating the outbursts of crowds at Soviet demonstrations honoring the achievements of the classless society.

P.S. Did you ever hear the Soviet joke? Good news: They've found Lenin's mother. Bad news: She's pregnant again.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Anything But Human

Anything But Human
By RICHARD POLT, New York Times

Wherever I turn, the popular media, scientists and even fellow philosophers are telling me that I’m a machine or a beast. My ethics can be illuminated by the behavior of termites. My brain is a sloppy computer with a flicker of consciousness and the illusion of free will. I’m anything but human.

While it would take more time and space than I have here to refute these views, I’d like to suggest why I stubbornly continue to believe that I’m a human being — something more than other animals, and essentially more than any computer.

The temptation to reduce the human to the subhuman has been around for a long time.

Let’s begin with ethics. Many organisms carry genes that promote behavior that benefits other organisms. The classic example is ants: every individual insect is ready to sacrifice itself for the colony. As Edward O. Wilson explained in a recent essay for The Stone, some biologists account for self-sacrificing behavior by the theory of kin selection, while Wilson and others favor group selection. Selection also operates between individuals: “within groups selfish individuals beat altruistic individuals, but groups of altruists beat groups of selfish individuals. Or, risking oversimplification, individual selection promoted sin, while group selection promoted virtue.” Wilson is cautious here, but some “evolutionary ethicists” don’t hesitate to claim that all we need in order to understand human virtue is the right explanation — whatever it may be — of how altruistic behavior evolved.

I have no beef with entomology or evolution, but I refuse to admit that they teach me much about ethics. Consider the fact that human action ranges to the extremes. People can perform extraordinary acts of altruism, including kindness toward other species — or they can utterly fail to be altruistic, even toward their own children. So whatever tendencies we may have inherited leave ample room for variation; our choices will determine which end of the spectrum we approach. This is where ethical discourse comes in — not in explaining how we’re “built,” but in deliberating on our own future acts. Should I cheat on this test? Should I give this stranger a ride? Knowing how my selfish and altruistic feelings evolved doesn’t help me decide at all. Most, though not all, moral codes advise me to cultivate altruism. But since the human race has evolved to be capable of a wide range of both selfish and altruistic behavior, there is no reason to say that altruism is superior to selfishness in any biological sense.

In fact, the very idea of an “ought” is foreign to evolutionary theory. It makes no sense for a biologist to say that some particular animal should be more cooperative, much less to claim that an entire species ought to aim for some degree of altruism. If we decide that we should neither “dissolve society” through extreme selfishness, as Wilson puts it, nor become “angelic robots” like ants, we are making an ethical judgment, not a biological one. Likewise, from a biological perspective it has no significance to claim that Ishould be more generous than I usually am, or that a tyrant ought to be deposed and tried. In short, a purely evolutionary ethics makes ethical discourse meaningless.

Some might draw the self-contradictory conclusion that we ought to drop the word “ought.” I prefer to conclude that ants are anything but human.They may feel pain and pleasure, which are the first glimmerings of purpose, but they’re nowhere near human (much less angelic) goodness. Whether we’re talking about ants, wolves, or naked mole rats, cooperative animal behavior is not human virtue. Any understanding of human good and evil has to deal with phenomena that biology ignores or tries to explain away — such as decency, self-respect, integrity, honor, loyalty or justice. These matters are debatable and uncertain — maybe permanently so. But that’s a far cry from being meaningless.

Next they tell me that my brain and the ant’s brain are just wet computers.”Evolution equipped us … with a neural computer,” as Steven Pinker put it in “How the Mind Works.” “Human thought and behavior, no matter how subtle and flexible, could be the product of a very complicated program.” The computer analogy has been attacked by many a philosopher before me, but it has staying power in our culture,and it works in both directions: we talk about computers that “know,” “remember,” and “decide,” and people who “get input” and “process information.”

So are you and I essentially no different from the machines on which I’m writing this essay and you may be reading it? Google’s servers can comb through billions of Web sites in a split second, but they’re indifferent to what those sites say, and can’t understand a word of them. Siri may find the nearest bar for you, but “she” neither approves nor disapproves of drinking. The word “bar” doesn’t actually mean anything to a computer: it’s a set of electrical impulses that represent nothing except to some human being who may interpret them. Today’s “artificial intelligence” is cleverly designed, but it’s no closer to real intelligence than the letter-writing automatons of the 18th century. None of these devices can think, because none of them can care; as far as we know there is no program, no matter how complicated, that can make the world matter to a machine. So computers are anything but human — in fact, they’re well below the level of an ant. Show me the computer that can feel the slightest twinge of pain or burst of pleasure; only then will I believe that our machines have started down the long road to thought.

The temptation to reduce the human to the subhuman has been around for a long time. In Plato’s “Phaedo,” Socrates says that some philosophers would explain his presence in prison by describing the state of his bones and sinews, but would say nothing about his own decisions and his views of what was best — the real reasons he ended up on death row. “They can’t tell the difference between the cause and that without which the cause couldn’t be a cause,” he says. Without a brain or DNA, I couldn’t write an essay, drive my daughter to school or go to the movies with my wife. But that doesn’t mean that my genes and brain structure can explain why I choose to do these things — why I affirm them as meaningful and valuable.

Aristotle resisted reductionism, too: in his “Politics,” he wrote that bees aren’t political in the human sense, because they can’t discuss what is good and just. People are constantly arguing about what would benefit their country most, or which arrangement is fairest, but bees don’t start Occupy the Hive movements or call for a flat tax on pollen. Certainly other animals have complex social arrangements; but they can’t envision alternative arrangements, consider them with at least the aspiration to impartiality, and provide reasons on their behalf.

So why have we been tempted for millenniums to explain humanity away? The culprit, I suggest, is our tendency to forget what Edmund Husserl called the “lifeworld” — the pre-scientific world of normal human experience, where science has its roots. In the lifeworld we are surrounded by valuable opportunities, good and bad choices, meaningful goals, and possibilities that we care about. Here, concepts such as virtue and vice make sense. Among our opportunities are the scientific study of ants or the construction of calculating machines. Once we’ve embraced such a possibility, it’s easy to get so absorbed in it that we try to interpret everything in terms of it — even if that approach leaves no room for value and meaning. Then we have forgotten the real-life roots of the very activity we’re pursuing. We try to explain the whole in terms of a part.

For instance, one factor that makes the computer-brain analogy seem so plausible is the ubiquitous talk of “information.” The word is often thrown around with total disregard for its roots in the lifeworld — specifically, the world of mid-20th-century communications. The seminal work in information theory is Claude Shannon’s 1948 paper “A Mathematical Theory of Communication,” which is mainly about the efficiency with which a certain sequence (say, a set of dots and dashes) can be transmitted and reproduced. There is no reference here to truth, awareness or understanding. As Shannon puts it, the “semantic aspects of communication are irrelevant to the engineering problem.” But concepts from information theory, in this restricted sense, have come to influence our notions of “information” in the broader sense, where the word suggests significance and learning. This may be deeply misleading. Why should we assume that thinking and perceiving are essentially information processing? Our communication devices are an important part of our lifeworld, but we can’t understand the whole in terms of the part.

By now, naturalist philosophers will suspect that there is something mystical or “spooky” about what I’m proposing. In fact, religion has survived the assaults of reductionism because religions address distinctively human concerns, concerns that ants and computers can’t have: Who am I? What is my place? What is the point of my life? But in order to reject reductionism, we don’t necessarily have to embrace religion or the supernatural. We need to recognize that nature, including human nature, is far richer than what so-called naturalism chooses to admit as natural. Nature includes the panoply of the lifeworld.

The call to remember the lifeworld is part of the ancient Greek counsel: “Know yourself.” The same scientist who claims that behavior is a function of genes can’t give a genetic explanation of why she chose to become a scientist in the first place. The same philosopher who denies freedom freely chooses to present conference papers defending this view. People forget their own lifeworld every day. It’s only human — all too human.