This blog is basically one of those really terrible half-spoken-word albums a lot of people put out after the various race riots in the 90s, where there would be a couple of meaningless songs about drugs and cars and then every other track would just be a bunch of guys mumbling into microphones in the studio, maybe doing some kind of skit or bunch of in-jokes talking about god or the time the crew went to 7-11 at 3 AM or how their sister went to rehab or whatever. But it’s even sillier, ’cause I just interrupt unevenly spaced travelogues to talk about Animaniacs and Carmen Sandiego, and today’s topic.
And if you are Kevin Dynan, or your views are represented by him, you are extremely dissatisfied with the fact that I am still 6 months behind on events posting, and only as the second semester is finishing up am I finally wrapping up my thoughts on the previous semester. This is partly due to my busy study, work, and social schedules, partly due to my ability to soak up free time with unproductive things, partly due to my desire to tell my family and friends all the sordid little details of our life here, partly because I’ve been splitting my thoughts between this one and the personal lj I keep for more serious, darker thoughts, especially political ones. If you are interested, here are some of the “lighter” ones (this one’s on clubbing but fails to convey the shallow, depressing activity it usually is), but you are warned that the language and content is really not at the PG level I keep here and does not represent Dickinson or whatever douchey disclaimers are supposed to say here. But it does represent a typical study abroad experience in China, it does represent an authentic part of life for people of all classes here, and it does represent the position of this typical American bourgeois leftist intellectual 20-year-old white male given 500 $US a month to get by in Beijing. So there.
But I don’t want to talk about that right now.
I want to talk about the Master of Orion series.
And if you are not in my immediate family you probably have no idea what I'm talking about.
Specifically, I want to talk about the playable alien races on Master of Orion II.
This is a Sakkra. Get a good look, they're the focus of today's extended simile.
Master of Orion II was a game similar to Civilization, only set in space, so you controlled planets as you explored, colonized, and generally tried to expand your space empire as you interacted/clashed with your neighbors and tried to unite the galaxy, either by getting diplomatically elected Emperor of the Universe or just plain-old crushing all your opponents Warhammer 40k style.
It's exactly that kind of spirit that brings nations together. After an armistice, anyway.
But through this process of economic development from tiny backwater to galactic superpower, declaring, waging, and concluding wars, battling internal dissent, researching advanced technology, and struggling to keep demographic, agricultural, and economic balance and prosperity within my realms, I got interested in international affairs and government as a child and learned a lot about what realistically drives nations to do stuff.
Playing the game is a lot like managing a complicated spreadsheet, only most of the cells are beyond your control and only yield to your demands by ruthless aggression and carefully staged planning.
So at the start of the game you picked your alien race of choice, and that basically defined your strategy for the rest of the game.
Notice the fact that humans are puny, small, and badly dressed in comparison to the rest of the galaxy.
Humans are capitalistic, freewheeling democrats who get what they want either through cold hard cash or with diplomatic weaseling, but we did get the sweetest theme song. The big orange guy is an Imsaeis, a gas giant dweller focusing on scientific research and diplomacy, with a dash of ecological terrorism thrown in, as revenge for having their homes wiped out during other races’ attempts at gas giant terraforming and mining. Meanwhile, the telepathic and militaristic Elarians were split into an honor-bound female soldier caste and a male philosopher caste united under a decentralized feudal matriarchy.
It should surprise exactly no one to learn I played them a lot.
The two robotic races, the bourgeois -industrialist Cynoid and cold, idealogical, fully-robotic Meklar were involved in a civil war over how purely mechanical a life form must be to be free of the taint of flesh.
And then there are the Sakkra.
Grittily rebooted in the third edition.
Now, the Sakkra are a challenging race to play OR fight, but kind of one-dimensional, all because of their main characteristic, both their greatest asset and potentially greatest hindrance: population growth.
They’re hatched from eggs in large clutches and as the major sentient species of their planets, they have no natural predators, so these guys multiply like CRAZY! Meaning they fight a lot of wars for more turf and resources, especially cropland, and if you happen to be their neighbor you might have great relations with them one day and the next see dozens of battleships and troop carriers ready to take over those nice breadbasket planets on your frontier you’ve left undefended since signing that non-aggression pact.
Ah, the Ribbentrop Maneuver.
All because of their biology, their leaders tend to be ruthless expansionists, their science tends to focus entirely on planetary construction to maintain housing and meet agricultural demands, they’d evolved to live underground, increasing potential housing space, and they were very good farmers (had to be to get anything done beyond sustaining population growth). But for those of you who think this social-political scenario sounds familiar…
I mean, not that I can think of anything.
…you can start to see a few problems in the scenario. Because the entire society is devoted to dealing with issues from its size and population, and as the society continues to expand and develop the problems from those issues tend to only get more extreme and complicated. Industrial farming creates industrial pollution and mass desertification creates famine creates need for more intensive farming. Mass production and large-scale industrialization creates massive underground labor unions creates mass social unrest creates giant treasury-sucking secret police force, enormous population requires decentralized political authority, resulting in sectarianism, rebellion, low government income, high maintenance costs and huge general inefficiencies, etc. If you can arrange it just so your massive forces of production outweigh your massive forces of consumption, you would win at everything, but if you let those diseconomies of scale start to build up you could be crushed ignominiously.
Not dissimilarly to this guy
When playing the Sakkra your strategy is very simple, following more or less the above guidelines. It’s more or less a matter of paying attention to your weak points and not getting caught up in the expansion, conquest, slaughter and glory of the good times so that you don’t suffer massive economic and demographic crises five years later on.
Once again, in this case I am speaking without thinking of any historical precedents at all.
If you have the misfortune of having Sakkran neighbors, I hope you’re playing with the AI set to “dropped on its head as a baby,” because if you’ve got an advanced difficulty level going, your enemy isn’t going to make stupid overconfident mistakes based on the “I am giant and invincible” feeling you get as a human, because your computer has no feelings.
The major problem with trying to manage the Sakkra is that humans can’t think in the calculus and exponential mathematical language of population control very easily, so it’s easy to get stuck in Malthusian traps or economic/agricultural crises. But your computer does not think the y=x squared function of population growth is that hard to predict. And so your Mac OS 8.0 will crush you between scaly Sakkra claws.
"We accept your decision, but declare war anyway." You get this message a lot if you have reptilian neighbors, usually right after you politely decline their request of a 10% tribute to them. Whatever, lizard needs food.
You would also have to listen to this while they were talking to you, which sounds like something that should be reserved for background for Sauron’s speeches to his orcish hordes, and even this creepy piece if they just wanted to say hello.
Points for those who have stayed with me so far, just a little longer, I’m getting to my point. One more thing first, though. Look at that profile picture again.
Purple space Guidos.
Did you notice the planet in the background? Did you notice how the soil is gray, there’s no plant life, and no atmosphere? That’s not just artistic, these guys have a homeworld poor in mineral and biological wealth, and are adapted to planets like our Mars, with thin, dry, crappy atmospheres and poor, ferrous soil, thus bad worlds for agricultural development. If they weren’t born on a planet like that they probably would never have evolved to live underground. So they basically are like playing Tsarist Russia.
Or…hey, wait, what’s another feudal agricultural country has an enormous population and huge scarcity of arable land that has defined their nation and both driven and hideously stunted their nation’s economic and cultural growth?
OH SHOOT HE WENT THERE.
Yeah, that “We accept your decision, but declare war anyway” kind of statement should sound familiar to any Vietnamese, Taiwanese, Korean, or Indian readers here, and probably sounds very ironic to anyone Japanese. It’s also the kind of language that scares the crap out of the US Foreign Service when they think about China.
When I play Master of Orion, my strategy could basically be taken out of Hillary Clinton’s playbook or interoffice memoes from any G8 nation. Start by expanding as much as possible and investing in light and heavy industry as well as R&D. Get patents on as many things as you can–give them away to friends weaker than you are, you’ll still be able to manufacture them better. Open up free trade and reserach agreements with the same. Expand your sphere of influence as quickly and as far as possible, hold your borders with bluffs and quick maneuvering by a paper-thin military you’re not funding in favor of real investment, and then expand to those borders and exploit those territories as quickly as possible. After a gradual military-industrial-scientific build-up, you’re either a major diplomatic power at the center of things or a major rising power on the outside of a big xenophobic-military-industrial-bloc looking in. Strike at somebody big, wobbly, and unpopular (Tsarist Russia?), there’s always someone like that, and from there start making your inroads. Then pop the champagne.
I fight like an American, what can I say?
I mean, when I've not taken the equally compelling neoclassical ASSIMILATE ALL FLESH-HOST approach as a giant superkiller alien parasite.
The Chinese/Sakkra do not have the luxury of employing such nuanced games, at least not at the degree of subtlety and sophistication we execute ours at, because they cannot change their inertia the way the United States can. They simply have too many people, too much history, and too many concrete needs behind their policies to comprehensively reform them, even for good reasons.
“Now Shaun,” you might be saying to me at this point, if you lack a grasp of how computers work, “that’s all very interesting, but totally irrelevant. Why would you, a perfectly nice if apparently cripplingly nerdy boy who believes China’s rise definitely can and should be peaceful, would be comparable to a race of giant angry lizard people invading your planet?”
“The very idea,” you might say, shaking your head at either of this post’s pictures of a purple tyrannosaur wearing a gold chain and 80s shoulder pads.
But that is because you do not read British international political commentary! Ha ha!
For my fellow Trots and American patriots who turn up your nose at the Torygraph, here is a guy coincidentally named Shaun Kenney from Virginia also giving commentary.
I only found this article because I was looking up dirt on a guy named Shaun Rein, this guy who works for an investment firm pulling massive amounts of money into China and writes really grating, gushing, apologistic articles for Forbes and Businessweek and the like. He’s one of those really talented, experienced, and immersed businessmen blinded by the money surrounding him who have come to believe China is an invincible economic juggernaut on its own terms and is ethically justified in everything it does, and he likes to write about the clean, Asian, streamlined capitalism in China’s market. You know, the part that isn’t wildly corrupt, extortionary and brutal to the working-class, completely opaque at the management level, riddled with patent violations, intentionally sabotaged by the government to prevent autonomy, is harshly checked by the government on ideological grounds for reasons that simply cannot be justified by western standards, and probably most severely of all, totally in thrall to its inflation rates/inflamed property market and is extremely bubble-prone.
After reading a handful of his articles that aren’t concise and interesting columns on business management and market insertion, my new life goal is to replace him as the “Shaun” of China.
And him not even Irish, the nerve. Quit slouching! You look like a deer in somebody's headlights, Shaun Rein.
I understand the guy’s job is to write about how you should invest in China because it’s a nice country and you can make money here, because he runs a bloody (note: in the British sense only) Chinese investment firm, and he’s whitewashing to cover for it. But complete appeasement of the Chinese state–not even calling it or thinking of it as appeasement, just implying that it’s the sole logical, sane, and profitable course of action–is ridiculous, as is taking it one step further and simply overlooking the major problems that the Chinese government itself has acknowledged, like the pollution, corruption, inequality, inflation, housing crisis, etc.
But back to the main point of the article.
"The exssssssstended ssssssimile."
Does the other Shaun, Shaun Kenney, who is not Shaun Rein, have a point? From his stuff:
–Problem #1: The Chinese Politburo doesn’t have to worry about dissent.– He says this in comparison to Wilhelm’s Germany, which started a war basically to split the Social Democrats and keep the Marxists from upending the country.
The Chinese government TOTALLY has to worry about dissent! It’s a much more j4smin3 type of thing, striking over unemployment and inflation and such, and it would take a magnification of current levels, but at present there are all sorts of small scale bombings being carried out by individuals all over rural and urban China, mostly protests over land seizure, pollution, and corruption issues. Like small-scale Timothy McVeigh type stuff, people throwing gasoline bombs at local government bureaus during meetings and the like, small-scale political attacks.
It’s not large scale because people generally put all the blame for the bad stuff in their life on their local government, not the national government. People don’t have any better ideas about how to run things, they’re afraid of more civil unrest and political power struggles that plagued the last two centuries of their history, and they’ll stick with the guys they know, who really aren’t so bad. But the Chinese Communist Party has not really had a steady finger on the pulse of its people since 1949, not on a policy level.
If America keeps calling names and exporting our inflation and debt burdens, if we spark some kind of economic crisis here and then play the political damage control really badly, for example, by having the head of our legislature and a large bloc of the House call Hu Jintao a dictator, which is technically true if extremely simplistic and overstating his authority, and then escalating trade embargos, for example, pressuring them really awkwardly on North Korea or Myanmar, etc…
The young officers are taking control of strategy and it is like young officers in Japan in the 1930s. They are thinking what they can do, not what they should do. This is very dangerous. They are on a collision course with a US-dominated system.”
If such a group were possibly even sympathetic to an aggressive group of North Korean naval officers trying to start a conflict they would have to lose and then be absorbed in the aftermath, East-Germany-style, then we could see some really scary conflict.
Another point by my fellow Shaun though:
–Problem #3: China’s ability to project force is a fraction of the United States. China’s GDP is on par with Japan, Britain, France, and Germany. Furthermore, the Chinese are surrounded by governments wary of the direction of the PRC — South Korea, Japan, Taiwan, the Philippines, Vietnam, Thailand, India, and despite all outward appearances to the contrary, Russia.–
The reason China’s reaching out to nations all over the world for diplomatic, military, and economic partnership is mainly because all of their immediate neighbors save some central Asian nations and Pakistan are extremely mistrustful of them.
If you live in China you don’t go looking to Brazil for a military alliance because all your neighbors like you so much. And if you’re in Brazil’s position, you should be very suspicious here, for the same reason that, for example, Bulgaria and Romania should have been more suspicious of courting Germans in 1941: when a superpower is suddenly very interested in placing large numbers of its troops in your country, and simultaneously taking your best troops very far away from your own country and using them to invade Russia, you should be extremely worried.
Kein problem, Herr Antonescu, you can trust Onkel Guderian to vrap zis zing up real qvick and haff ze boys home bevor Christmas.
So if ten years from now, China were to offer “limited personnel assistance” and “military advisers” in the event of, say, a revolt in the Amazon or escalation of civil war in Colombia/Venezuela, while borrowing some peacekeeping units for use in central Asia, that’s a gift horse you want to look in the mouth.
Quote here from prewar Germany
–“‘The only condition which could lead to improvement of German-English relations would be if we bridled our economic development, and this is not possible,’ said Deutsche Bank chief Karl Helfferich as early as 1897. German steel output jumped tenfold from 1880 to 1900, leaping past British production. Sound familiar?”–
And –Heaven protect us from unreconstructed Neo-cons such as ex-UN ambassador John Bolton, who wants to send aircraft carrier battle groups into the Straits of Taiwan, as if we were still living in that lost world of American pre-eminence in 1996, when China was still too weak to respond, and did not have operational missiles able to sink US carriers far at sea. Yet variants of the Bolton view are gaining ground on Capitol Hill.– It’s not just a Republican thing, Harry Reid, possibly just in an attempt to appear less like his usual underwhelming self, was at the forefront criticizing Hu when he was in D.C. It’s a US election thing, regardless of what party you belong to–if you want to seem less bleeding-heart and more tough as a Democrat, support Israel, bash China. If you want to appeal to a Republican constituency aimed more Tea Party, support Israel (maybe with a little less tax revenue), bash China a little harder.
–The political reality is that China’s export of manufacturing over-capacity is hollowing out the US industrial core, and a plethora of tricks to stop Western firms competing in the Chinese market rubs salt in the wound. It is preventing full recovery in the US, where half the population is falling out of the bottom of the Affluent Society. Some 43.2m people are now on food stamps. The US labour force participation rate has fallen to 64.3pc, worse than a year ago. Only the richer half is recovering. “China gets 10pc growth: the US gets 10pc unemployment. That doesn’t seem the basis for a happy marriage,”–
—The roots of this imbalance lie in the structure of globalisation and East-West capital flows – and no doubt the deficiencies of US school education – but China plays a central role, and this will not tolerated for much longer if Beijing is also perceived to be a strategic enemy. China’s economic and military goals are in conflict. One defeats the other.–
As a citizen of the rustbelt, I understand what China’s doing with its manufacturing sector, because America basically got rich the same way, propping up domestic barriers and financing other nations’ rise (Imperial Japan, Germany, eventually France and Britain, NOT Republican Spain, eastern Europe, or the Soviet Union), but it’s the twenty-first century now and we can’t do things the old way any more. Not if we want to stop the wars and the empty rivalry and the fear and seriously work together. Not if we want to really build something instead of just play King of the Hill on top of a big tower of spent bullet casings.
–Prof Ferguson said naval rivalry is passé – cyberwarfare is the issue of the future, and he advises the West to be a little more careful about its reliance on Chinese-manufactured microchips.–Be that as it may, the current flash-point is a very old fashioned showdown between gunboats in the Yellow Sea and the South China Sea (the latter now a “core interest” of China along with Tibet and Taiwan), also claimed in part by a ring of other nations who are not pleased.–
What’s encouraging though–The Chinese have no recent history of sweeping territorial expansion (except Tibet). The one-child policy has left a dearth of young men, and implies a chronic aging crisis within a decade. This is not the demographic profile of a fundamentally bellicose nation.–problem is that those handful of young men are under a huge amount of social stress for a zillion economic and social reasons I could talk for days about, and they could easily be led by circumstance or intent to make some stupid decisions with an enlistment card. The army is hugely popular as an employment branch right now, and they have very high requirements now for officer candidacy and have to limit their acceptance even for enlistment…
–The correct statecraft for the West is to treat Beijing politely but firmly as a member of global club, gambling that the Confucian ethic will over time incline China to a quest for global as well as national concord. Until we face irrefutable evidence that this Confucian bet has failed, ‘Boltonism’ must be crushed.–Appeasement, your hour has come.– Ah, the British right, endless font of wisdom. There is appeasement and then there is agreement to disagree but still do business.
The comparison to prewar Germany isn’t entirely accurate. Germany in 1910 had a lot more social unrest–back then it was full of actual Marxists who wanted to overthrow the monarchy and bourgeois instead of a ruling Communist Party who ARE the nucleus of a monarchistic bourgeois, because history repeats itself, the second time as farce, just like Marx said. But China’s demographic and economic issues are massively more pressing. Germany’s question was who was going to dominate European markets only; Britain was never really making any money off of its colonies, and Germany would have expanded into the only fields keeping England afloat, and would have dominated the then-major-developing countries in the Middle East and South America.
But China’s rise, as either a failed state still pushed on by economic momentum, a middleweight industrial power weighed down by internal problems, or a heavyweight rising superpower, would literally impact the entire world, from Australia to Russia to central Asia to Africa to North and South America to Europe to outer space itself. The Soviet Union’s rise swallowed up Germany by comparison, and the United States, in time, swallowed up the USSR. If America gets into a position where it feels it has to prove its dominance, once and for all…or China feels it has no choice but to really challenge American authority…or they both feel the other has done them some lasting harm…
More from Shaun–There’s a reason why China is pursuing stability above all other factors. They know, as we know, that they will inevitably lose any future conflict. Soft power by opening up the world’s largest consumer market is the key to any future prosperity.–
If it comes to war, America will win, no question, and we’ll use the opportunity to rebuild our domestic industry and reform our immigration system. China might take back Taiwan in such a conflict, though, and the Korea issue might get settled permanently, along with Japan’s perennial do-you-want-an-army-or-not issue. So if all those ducks got lined up in a row, somebody might take a shot at them, on either side really. I know South Korea’s been jonesing for a fight, lately. It seems everybody’s awfully edgy, don’t know if it’s something in particular or just that pre-2012 apocalyptic itch.
- But hey, if I was looking at, “We accept your decision to not hand over the oil deposits of the Diaoyu Islands, but declare war on Japan anyway” I’d be edgy, too.
–Let it be said in China’s defence that it occupies no overseas military bases, and has no modern history of projecting imperial power. On balance, I remain hopeful that country with a one-child policy, an aging crunch from Hell, and a chronic dearth of young people, will show an enormous reluctance to support military adventurism. Losing an only child is especially cruel.–
–Let us hope that the Communist hierachy in Beijing can rein in those young officers. But as Dr Huang said, they can no longer control much of anything, least of all the 17m-strong base of the Communist Party. “The empire has lost control of its officials, which is how Chinese empires have always fallen in history.” This needs watching, I fear.–
But hey, that’s some heavy stuff there about wars and economic crashes and reducing the past and present heroes of the American political, military, and economic worlds to pawns in a giant Bismarckian game of Age of Empires.
So here's another Elarian pic to distract you. In my opinion, if your mate can't at least fight you to a standstill, outsmart you in a half dozen different areas, and keep you up three nights in a row, you're not trying hard enough.
Kevin, don’t worry, I’ll post about Datong and Shaanxi soon, in the next three days or so, then Jiangxi, and then I want to talk about my personal life this semester, maybe do like a “day-in-my-life’ kind of feature to show an average day in China, and finish up with a post about what I’ve learned here and my advice to students coming over and people dealing with Chinese people and culture.