Friday, December 12, 2008

China's Desperate Need to Stifle Dissent Is Holding It Back

Harvard polymath Steven Pinker attacks what he sees as another contemporary myth:

"Everyone says that China will be the next scientific and economic power. Is this compatible with their ongoing rejection of open debate and exploration of ideas? Is a technologically advanced society compatible with anti-intellectualism and suppression of debate? It’s hard to see how China will ever compete with the West as a source of scientific and technological innovation if ideas cannot be discussed and evaluated."

As the blogger discussing the article on futureprogress points out, China has other tricks to try to absorb knowledge without contaminating itself. It's worth pointing out that pre-World War II Japan modernized at an astonishing pace and did not democratize until it was atom-bombed. This is no call for an attack on China (which would be the biggest lose-lose in history) but rather a reminder that we shouldn't be overoptimistic about the automatic liberalization of a state following that state's arrival in the modern economy.

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