Why Am I Reading This Now?

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GOP Senators Send Letter to Netflix Challenging Plans to Adapt Chinese Sci-Fi Novel ‘The Three Body Problem’ (Hollywood Reporter)

‘Game of Thrones’ creators David Benioff and D.B. Weiss are set to adapt the hit book trilogy for Netflix. The Senators’ accuse the streamer of “normalizing” China’s extra-judicial detention of over one million Muslims in Xinjiang, referencing past comments from the books’ author Liu Cixin supporting the program.


Fact #1: The Three Body Problem book trilogy by Liu Cixin is a fantastic work of art.

IMO it’s the most important work of science fiction since Asimov’s Foundation trilogy back in the 1950s, and I’m thrilled that Netflix is adapting it into a television/movie series (less thrilled that Benioff and Weiss are the guys in charge).

Fact #2: Liu Cixin is not outspoken on politics, but when he does speak, he is a non-apologetic apologist for the Chinese government’s brutal treatment of its Uyghur minority population.

Here’s the quote that everyone focuses on, from a June, 2019 feature article in the New Yorker:

When I brought up the mass internment of Muslim Uighurs—around a million are now in re-education camps in the northwestern province of Xinjiang—he trotted out the familiar arguments of government-controlled media: “Would you rather that they be hacking away at bodies at train stations and schools in terrorist attacks? If anything, the government is helping their economy and trying to lift them out of poverty.” The answer duplicated government propaganda so exactly that I couldn’t help asking Liu if he ever thought he might have been brainwashed. “I know what you are thinking,” he told me with weary clarity. “What about individual liberty and freedom of governance?” He sighed, as if exhausted by a debate going on in his head. “But that’s not what Chinese people care about. For ordinary folks, it’s the cost of health care, real-estate prices, their children’s education. Not democracy.”

Fact #3: Yesterday, five GOP Senators sent a letter to Netflix, saying that any adaptation of Liu Cixin’s work amounted to “normalization” of China’s actions against the Uyghurs, and that “Netflix’s decision to do business with an individual who is parroting dangerous CCP propaganda” amounts to “complicity” with the CCP.

You can download a PDF copy of the letter here.

The surface issue around these facts, of course, is whether artists are separable from their art.

Does the recognition and promotion of good art made by artists with abhorrent political opinions serve also to recognize and promote those abhorrent political opinions?

My answer is yes … if you’re a rhinoceros.

But if you’re still a human being … if you’re still able to hold two independent thoughts in your head at the same time … if you’re still able to believe that yes, China’s treatment of the Uyghurs is a grotesque evil deserving of implacable sanction and resistance AND yes, The Three Body Problem is an important work of art … then my answer is no.

To be sure, there is a spectrum of association between artist and abhorrent regime that plays a crucial role in how I’m answering this question. I mean, no one needs to be doing a Leni Riefenstahl retrospective in 1938. That said, I don’t think that any reasonable person could say that Liu Cixin is an unofficial spokesperson for the Chinese government like Riefenstahl was for Germany, and I definitely don’t think that any reasonable person could say that The Three Body Problem is a glorification of the grotesque Chinese state like Triumph of the Will was a glorification of the grotesque German state.

It is, of course, possible for well-meaning people to disagree on this question.

But I don’t think that the five GOP Senators who sent this letter to Netflix are well-meaning.

I don’t think these Senators care very much about this book adaptation and the indirect-at-best “normalization” of abhorrent political views held by the author of the source material. I don’t think that this letter was written out of a deep and abiding concern with the horrific treatment of the Uyghurs, because if that were true a letter to Mary Barra at General Motors might be just a wee bit more relevant and impactful.

No, I think this letter was written out of a deep and abiding concern with Netflix.

I think this letter was written to generate a “Whatabout?” talking point regarding Netflix in particular and Hollywood in general, so that any criticism of these GOP Senators and Dear Leader on the China political dimension can be blunted, and any attacks on the political opponents of these GOP Senators and Dear Leader on the China political dimension can be buttressed.

I think that’s why this letter was written NOW.

Which leads me to the best advice I’ve got for maintaining a critical distance from the barrage of Fiat News that seeks to weld our minds shut, to the best advice I’ve got for maintaining some resistance to our hard-wired tendency to fall into Gell-Mann Amnesia.

Whenever you read something in the news, always ask yourself:

Why am I reading this now?

Clear eyes. Full hearts. Can’t lose.


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Desperate_Yuppie
3 months ago

The biggest shocker here is that Hawley wasn’t one of the signers of this letter.

You’re seeing a clear line being drawn now. Netflix is propping up China. Google is controlling search (which really means they’re controlling information). Twitter is moderating discussions. The target before was simply the amorphous “big tech”, but now it’s narrowing. We’re getting names and the ‘crimes’ that they’re committing. You can watch the narrative take shape before your eyes. It’s actually impressive that these people–none of whom I’d hire to run a Dairy Queen–have started to tap into the lowbrow sentiment of populism with regards to our tech overlords. The unfortunate thing is that such a narrative, and whatever flimsy policy prescriptions that may follow it, are extremely low cost to produce but can be of enormous value to the creators. You don’t need to actually stop Netflix (or Disney, who’s also now on the watch list) from doing anything. Just standing up, pointing, and telling the mob that they’re the baddies is enough to earn you some populist currency. The next few years are going to be extremely interesting.

Demetri Preonas
3 months ago

just finished the book. Entertaining and explainms what is wrong with the Chinese gov’t thinking.

Bob
Bob
3 months ago

Darn, I just started reading it. Am I going to be put under surveillance or cancelled by these paragons of Democracy like Rick (Plead the 5th) Scott?

John L
3 months ago

Yes, for years now, Ben has so brilliantly alerted us to the “Three-Body problem” – making the transition from orbital mechanics to the financial / political implications of basis uncertainty.
But my hope is Netflix will illumine more of the 2nd book in the trilogy, “The Dark Forrest”.
Why ?
I’m glad you asked. Let us defer to Niall Ferguson for an answer;

Of course, you may say, it’s just sci-fi. Yes, but “The Dark Forest” gives us an insight into something we think too little about: how Xi’s China thinks. It’s not up to us whether or not we have a Cold War with China, if China has already declared Cold War on us.

Not only are we already in the foothills of that new Cold War; those foothills are also impenetrably covered in a dark forest of China’s devising”

LudwigvonMises
2 months ago
Reply to  John L

exactly

mwgjerde
3 months ago

I’m sorry but that 5 Republican senators would even think of writing such a letter when their damn dear leader is threatening to overthrow US democracy at this very moment is totally hypocritical, disgusting and spineless!

Richard Simnett
3 months ago

The first volume of the trilogy begins with the cultural revolution. It’s hard to see how anyone can see it as an endorsement of the CCP. That it was published at all suggests how much had/s changed.

LudwigvonMises
2 months ago

It is a fantastic trilogy that everyone should read. Especially, as John L says, The Dark Forest.

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