THE STONE November 17, 2012, 3:24 PM
By CHRISTY WAMPOLE

If irony is the ethos of our age — and it is — then the hipster is our archetype of ironic living.

The hipster haunts every city street and university town. Manifesting a nostalgia for times he never lived himself, this contemporary urban harlequin appropriates outmoded fashions (the mustache, the tiny shorts), mechanisms (fixed-gear bicycles, portable record players) and hobbies (home brewing, playing trombone). He harvests awkwardness and self-consciousness. Before he makes any choice, he has proceeded through several stages of self-scrutiny. The hipster is a scholar of social forms, a student of cool. He studies relentlessly, foraging for what has yet to be found by the mainstream. He is a walking citation; his clothes refer to much more than themselves. He tries to negotiate the age-old problem of individuality, not with concepts, but with material things.

He is an easy target for mockery. However, scoffing at the hipster is only a diluted form of his own affliction. He is merely a symptom and the most extreme manifestation of ironic living. For many Americans born in the 1980s and 1990s — members of Generation Y, or Millennials — particularly middle-class Caucasians, irony is the primary mode with which daily life is dealt. One need only dwell in public space, virtual or concrete, to see how pervasive this phenomenon has become. Advertising, politics, fashion, television: almost every category of contemporary reality exhibits this will to irony.

Take, for example, an ad that calls itself an ad, makes fun of its own format, and attempts to lure its target market to laugh at and with it. It pre-emptively acknowledges its own failure to accomplish anything meaningful. No attack can be set against it, as it has already conquered itself. The ironic frame functions as a shield against criticism. The same goes for ironic living. Irony is the most self-defensive mode, as it allows a person to dodge responsibility for his or her choices, aesthetic and otherwise. To live ironically is to hide in public. It is flagrantly indirect, a form of subterfuge, which means etymologically to “secretly flee” (subter + fuge). Somehow, directness has become unbearable to us.

How did this happen? It stems in part from the belief that this generation has little to offer in terms of culture, that everything has already been done, or that serious commitment to any belief will eventually be subsumed by an opposing belief, rendering the first laughable at best and contemptible at worst. This kind of defensive living works as a pre-emptive surrender and takes the form of reaction rather than action.

Life in the Internet age has undoubtedly helped a certain ironic sensibility to flourish. An ethos can be disseminated quickly and widely through this medium. Our incapacity to deal with the things at hand is evident in our use of, and increasing reliance on, digital technology. Prioritizing what is remote over what is immediate, the virtual over the actual, we are absorbed in the public and private sphere by the little devices that take us elsewhere.

Furthermore, the nostalgia cycles have become so short that we even try to inject the present moment with sentimentality, for example, by using certain digital filters to “pre-wash” photos with an aura of historicity. Nostalgia needs time. One cannot accelerate meaningful remembrance.

While we have gained some skill sets (multitasking, technological savvy), other skills have suffered: the art of conversation, the art of looking at people, the art of being seen, the art of being present. Our conduct is no longer governed by subtlety, finesse, grace and attention, all qualities more esteemed in earlier decades. Inwardness and narcissism now hold sway.

Born in 1977, at the tail end of Generation X, I came of age in the 1990s, a decade that, bracketed neatly by two architectural crumblings — of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the Twin Towers in 2001 — now seems relatively irony-free. The grunge movement was serious in its aesthetics and its attitude, with a combative stance against authority, which the punk movement had also embraced. In my perhaps over-nostalgic memory, feminism reached an unprecedented peak, environmentalist concerns gained widespread attention, questions of race were more openly addressed: all of these stirrings contained within them the same electricity and euphoria touching generations that witness a centennial or millennial changeover.

But Y2K came and went without disaster. We were hopeful throughout the ’90s, but hope is such a vulnerable emotion; we needed a self-defense mechanism, for every generation has one. For Gen Xers, it was a kind of diligent apathy. We actively did not care. Our archetype was the slacker who slouched through life in plaid flannel, alone in his room, misunderstood. And when we were bored with not caring, we were vaguely angry and melancholic, eating anti-depressants like they were candy.

FROM this vantage, the ironic clique appears simply too comfortable, too brainlessly compliant. Ironic living is a first-world problem. For the relatively well educated and financially secure, irony functions as a kind of credit card you never have to pay back. In other words, the hipster can frivolously invest in sham social capital without ever paying back one sincere dime. He doesn’t own anything he possesses.

Obviously, hipsters (male or female) produce a distinct irritation in me, one that until recently I could not explain. They provoke me, I realized, because they are, despite the distance from which I observe them, an amplified version of me.

I, too, exhibit ironic tendencies. For example, I find it difficult to give sincere gifts. Instead, I often give what in the past would have been accepted only at a White Elephant gift exchange: a kitschy painting from a thrift store, a coffee mug with flashy images of “Texas, the Lone Star State,” plastic Mexican wrestler figures. Good for a chuckle in the moment, but worth little in the long term. Something about the responsibility of choosing a personal, meaningful gift for a friend feels too intimate, too momentous. I somehow cannot bear the thought of a friend disliking a gift I’d chosen with sincerity. The simple act of noticing my self-defensive behavior has made me think deeply about how potentially toxic ironic posturing could be.

First, it signals a deep aversion to risk. As a function of fear and pre-emptive shame, ironic living bespeaks cultural numbness, resignation and defeat. If life has become merely a clutter of kitsch objects, an endless series of sarcastic jokes and pop references, a competition to see who can care the least (or, at minimum, a performance of such a competition), it seems we’ve made a collective misstep. Could this be the cause of our emptiness and existential malaise? Or a symptom?

Throughout history, irony has served useful purposes, like providing a rhetorical outlet for unspoken societal tensions. But our contemporary ironic mode is somehow deeper; it has leaked from the realm of rhetoric into life itself. This ironic ethos can lead to a vacuity and vapidity of the individual and collective psyche. Historically, vacuums eventually have been filled by something — more often than not, a hazardous something. Fundamentalists are never ironists; dictators are never ironists; people who move things in the political landscape, regardless of the sides they choose, are never ironists.

Where can we find other examples of nonironic living? What does it look like? Nonironic models include very young children, elderly people, deeply religious people, people with severe mental or physical disabilities, people who have suffered, and those from economically or politically challenged places where seriousness is the governing state of mind. My friend Robert Pogue Harrison put it this way in a recent conversation: “Wherever the real imposes itself, it tends to dissipate the fogs of irony.”

Observe a 4-year-old child going through her daily life. You will not find the slightest bit of irony in her behavior. She has not, so to speak, taken on the veil of irony. She likes what she likes and declares it without dissimulation. She is not particularly conscious of the scrutiny of others. She does not hide behind indirect language. The most pure nonironic models in life, however, are to be found in nature: animals and plants are exempt from irony, which exists only where the human dwells.

What would it take to overcome the cultural pull of irony? Moving away from the ironic involves saying what you mean, meaning what you say and considering seriousness and forthrightness as expressive possibilities, despite the inherent risks. It means undertaking the cultivation of sincerity, humility and self-effacement, and demoting the frivolous and the kitschy on our collective scale of values. It might also consist of an honest self-inventory.

Here is a start: Look around your living space. Do you surround yourself with things you really like or things you like only because they are absurd? Listen to your own speech. Ask yourself: Do I communicate primarily through inside jokes and pop culture references? What percentage of my speech is meaningful? How much hyperbolic language do I use? Do I feign indifference? Look at your clothes. What parts of your wardrobe could be described as costume-like, derivative or reminiscent of some specific style archetype (the secretary, the hobo, the flapper, yourself as a child)? In other words, do your clothes refer to something else or only to themselves? Do you attempt to look intentionally nerdy, awkward or ugly? In other words, is your style an anti-style? The most important question: How would it feel to change yourself quietly, offline, without public display, from within?

Attempts to banish irony have come and gone in past decades. The loosely defined New Sincerity movements in the arts that have sprouted since the 1980s positioned themselves as responses to postmodern cynicism, detachment and meta-referentiality. (New Sincerity has recently been associated with the writing of David Foster Wallace, the films of Wes Anderson and the music of Cat Power.) But these attempts failed to stick, as evidenced by the new age of Deep Irony.

What will future generations make of this rampant sarcasm and unapologetic cultivation of silliness? Will we be satisfied to leave an archive filled with video clips of people doing stupid things? Is an ironic legacy even a legacy at all?

The ironic life is certainly a provisional answer to the problems of too much comfort, too much history and too many choices, but it is my firm conviction that this mode of living is not viable and conceals within it many social and political risks. For such a large segment of the population to forfeit its civic voice through the pattern of negation I’ve described is to siphon energy from the cultural reserves of the community at large. People may choose to continue hiding behind the ironic mantle, but this choice equals a surrender to commercial and political entities more than happy to act as parents for a self-infantilizing citizenry. So rather than scoffing at the hipster — a favorite hobby, especially of hipsters — determine whether the ashes of irony have settled on you as well. It takes little effort to dust them away.

Christy Wampole is an assistant professor of French at Princeton University. Her research focuses primarily on 20th- and 21st-century French and Italian literature and thought.

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……

To Ima and Sheila, and each of you — in the darkest hours of your lives, you may have felt utterly alone, and it seemed like nobody cared. And the important thing for us to understand is there are millions around the world who are feeling that same way at this very moment.

Right now, there is a man on a boat, casting the net with his bleeding hands, knowing he deserves a better life, a life of dignity, but doesn’t know if anybody is paying attention. Right now, there’s a woman, hunched over a sewing machine, glancing beyond the bars on the window, knowing if just given the chance, she might some day sell her own wares, but she doesn’t think anybody is paying attention. Right now, there’s a young boy, in a brick factory, covered in dust, hauling his heavy load under a blazing sun, thinking if he could just go to school, he might know a different future, but he doesn’t think anybody is paying attention. Right now, there is a girl, somewhere trapped in a brothel, crying herself to sleep again, and maybe daring to imagine that some day, just maybe, she might be treated not like a piece of property, but as a human being.

And so our message today, to them, is — to the millions around the world — we see you. We hear you. We insist on your dignity. And we share your belief that if just given the chance, you will forge a life equal to your talents and worthy of your dreams. (Applause.)

Our fight against human trafficking is one of the great human rights causes of our time, and the United States will continue to lead it — in partnership with you. The change we seek will not come easy, but we can draw strength from the movements of the past. For we know that every life saved — in the words of that great Proclamation — is “an act of justice,” worthy of “the considerate judgment of mankind, and the gracious favor of Almighty God.”

That’s what we believe. That’s what we’re fighting for. And I’m so proud to be in partnership with CGI to make this happen.

…………………….

For complete speech, see:
http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2012/09/25/remarks-president-clinton-global-initiative

September 25, 2012
 Following is a text of President Obama’s speech to the United Nations General Assembly on Tuesday, as released by the White House:

Mr. President, Mr. Secretary General, fellow delegates, ladies and gentleman: I would like to begin today by telling you about an American named Chris Stevens.

Chris was born in a town called Grass Valley, California, the son of a lawyer and a musician. As a young man, Chris joined the Peace Corps, and taught English in Morocco. And he came to love and respect the people of North Africa and the Middle East. He would carry that commitment throughout his life. As a diplomat, he worked from Egypt to Syria, from Saudi Arabia to Libya. He was known for walking the streets of the cities where he worked — tasting the local food, meeting as many people as he could, speaking Arabic, listening with a broad smile.

Chris went to Benghazi in the early days of the Libyan revolution, arriving on a cargo ship. As America’s representative, he helped the Libyan people as they coped with violent conflict, cared for the wounded, and crafted a vision for the future in which the rights of all Libyans would be respected. And after the revolution, he supported the birth of a new democracy, as Libyans held elections, and built new institutions, and began to move forward after decades of dictatorship.

Chris Stevens loved his work. He took pride in the country he served, and he saw dignity in the people that he met. And two weeks ago, he traveled to Benghazi to review plans to establish a new cultural center and modernize a hospital. That’s when America’s compound came under attack. Along with three of his colleagues, Chris was killed in the city that he helped to save. He was 52 years old.

I tell you this story because Chris Stevens embodied the best of America. Like his fellow Foreign Service officers, he built bridges across oceans and cultures, and was deeply invested in the international cooperation that the United Nations represents. He acted with humility, but he also stood up for a set of principles — a belief that individuals should be free to determine their own destiny, and live with liberty, dignity, justice, and opportunity.

The attacks on the civilians in Benghazi were attacks on America. We are grateful for the assistance we received from the Libyan government and from the Libyan people. There should be no doubt that we will be relentless in tracking down the killers and bringing them to justice. And I also appreciate that in recent days, the leaders of other countries in the region — including Egypt, Tunisia and Yemen — have taken steps to secure our diplomatic facilities, and called for calm. And so have religious authorities around the globe.

But understand, the attacks of the last two weeks are not simply an assault on America. They are also an assault on the very ideals upon which the United Nations was founded — the notion that people can resolve their differences peacefully; that diplomacy can take the place of war; that in an interdependent world, all of us have a stake in working towards greater opportunity and security for our citizens.

If we are serious about upholding these ideals, it will not be enough to put more guards in front of an embassy, or to put out statements of regret and wait for the outrage to pass. If we are serious about these ideals, we must speak honestly about the deeper causes of the crisis — because we face a choice between the forces that would drive us apart and the hopes that we hold in common.

Today, we must reaffirm that our future will be determined by people like Chris Stevens — and not by his killers. Today, we must declare that this violence and intolerance has no place among our United Nations.

It has been less than two years since a vendor in Tunisia set himself on fire to protest the oppressive corruption in his country, and sparked what became known as the Arab Spring. And since then, the world has been captivated by the transformation that’s taken place, and the United States has supported the forces of change.

We were inspired by the Tunisian protests that toppled a dictator, because we recognized our own beliefs in the aspiration of men and women who took to the streets.

We insisted on change in Egypt, because our support for democracy ultimately put us on the side of the people.

We supported a transition of leadership in Yemen, because the interests of the people were no longer being served by a corrupt status quo.

We intervened in Libya alongside a broad coalition, and with the mandate of the United Nations Security Council, because we had the ability to stop the slaughter of innocents, and because we believed that the aspirations of the people were more powerful than a tyrant.

And as we meet here, we again declare that the regime of Bashar al-Assad must come to an end so that the suffering of the Syrian people can stop and a new dawn can begin.

We have taken these positions because we believe that freedom and self-determination are not unique to one culture. These are not simply American values or Western values — they are universal values. And even as there will be huge challenges to come with a transition to democracy, I am convinced that ultimately government of the people, by the people, and for the people is more likely to bring about the stability, prosperity, and individual opportunity that serve as a basis for peace in our world.

So let us remember that this is a season of progress. For the first time in decades, Tunisians, Egyptians and Libyans voted for new leaders in elections that were credible, competitive, and fair. This democratic spirit has not been restricted to the Arab world. Over the past year, we’ve seen peaceful transitions of power in Malawi and Senegal, and a new President in Somalia. In Burma, a President has freed political prisoners and opened a closed society, a courageous dissident has been elected to parliament, and people look forward to further reform. Around the globe, people are making their voices heard, insisting on their innate dignity, and the right to determine their future.

And yet the turmoil of recent weeks reminds us that the path to democracy does not end with the casting of a ballot. Nelson Mandela once said: “To be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.”

True democracy demands that citizens cannot be thrown in jail because of what they believe, and that businesses can be opened without paying a bribe. It depends on the freedom of citizens to speak their minds and assemble without fear, and on the rule of law and due process that guarantees the rights of all people.

In other words, true democracy — real freedom — is hard work. Those in power have to resist the temptation to crack down on dissidents. In hard economic times, countries must be tempted — may be tempted to rally the people around perceived enemies, at home and abroad, rather than focusing on the painstaking work of reform.

Moreover, there will always be those that reject human progress — dictators who cling to power, corrupt interests that depend on the status quo, and extremists who fan the flames of hate and division. From Northern Ireland to South Asia, from Africa to the Americas, from the Balkans to the Pacific Rim, we’ve witnessed convulsions that can accompany transitions to a new political order.

At time, the conflicts arise along the fault lines of race or tribe. And often they arise from the difficulties of reconciling tradition and faith with the diversity and interdependence of the modern world. In every country, there are those who find different religious beliefs threatening; in every culture, those who love freedom for themselves must ask themselves how much they’re willing to tolerate freedom for others.

That is what we saw play out in the last two weeks, as a crude and disgusting video sparked outrage throughout the Muslim world. Now, I have made it clear that the United States government had nothing to do with this video, and I believe its message must be rejected by all who respect our common humanity.

It is an insult not only to Muslims, but to America as well — for as the city outside these walls makes clear, we are a country that has welcomed people of every race and every faith. We are home to Muslims who worship across our country. We not only respect the freedom of religion, we have laws that protect individuals from being harmed because of how they look or what they believe. We understand why people take offense to this video because millions of our citizens are among them.

I know there are some who ask why we don’t just ban such a video. And the answer is enshrined in our laws: Our Constitution protects the right to practice free speech.

Here in the United States, countless publications provoke offense. Like me, the majority of Americans are Christian, and yet we do not ban blasphemy against our most sacred beliefs. As President of our country and Commander-in-Chief of our military, I accept that people are going to call me awful things every day — (laughter) — and I will always defend their right to do so.

Americans have fought and died around the globe to protect the right of all people to express their views, even views that we profoundly disagree with. We do not do so because we support hateful speech, but because our founders understood that without such protections, the capacity of each individual to express their own views and practice their own faith may be threatened. We do so because in a diverse society, efforts to restrict speech can quickly become a tool to silence critics and oppress minorities.

We do so because given the power of faith in our lives, and the passion that religious differences can inflame, the strongest weapon against hateful speech is not repression; it is more speech — the voices of tolerance that rally against bigotry and blasphemy, and lift up the values of understanding and mutual respect.

Now, I know that not all countries in this body share this particular understanding of the protection of free speech. We recognize that. But in 2012, at a time when anyone with a cell phone can spread offensive views around the world with the click of a button, the notion that we can control the flow of information is obsolete. The question, then, is how do we respond?

And on this we must agree: There is no speech that justifies mindless violence. There are no words that excuse the killing of innocents. There’s no video that justifies an attack on an embassy. There’s no slander that provides an excuse for people to burn a restaurant in Lebanon, or destroy a school in Tunis, or cause death and destruction in Pakistan.

In this modern world with modern technologies, for us to respond in that way to hateful speech empowers any individual who engages in such speech to create chaos around the world. We empower the worst of us if that’s how we respond.

More broadly, the events of the last two weeks also speak to the need for all of us to honestly address the tensions between the West and the Arab world that is moving towards democracy.

Now, let me be clear: Just as we cannot solve every problem in the world, the United States has not and will not seek to dictate the outcome of democratic transitions abroad. We do not expect other nations to agree with us on every issue, nor do we assume that the violence of the past weeks or the hateful speech by some individuals represent the views of the overwhelming majority of Muslims, any more than the views of the people who produced this video represents those of Americans. However, I do believe that it is the obligation of all leaders in all countries to speak out forcefully against violence and extremism.

It is time to marginalize those who — even when not directly resorting to violence — use hatred of America, or the West, or Israel, as the central organizing principle of politics. For that only gives cover, and sometimes makes an excuse, for those who do resort to violence.

That brand of politics — one that pits East against West, and South against North, Muslims against Christians and Hindu and Jews — can’t deliver on the promise of freedom. To the youth, it offers only false hope. Burning an American flag does nothing to provide a child an education. Smashing apart a restaurant does not fill an empty stomach. Attacking an embassy won’t create a single job. That brand of politics only makes it harder to achieve what we must do together: educating our children, and creating the opportunities that they deserve; protecting human rights, and extending democracy’s promise.

Understand America will never retreat from the world. We will bring justice to those who harm our citizens and our friends, and we will stand with our allies. We are willing to partner with countries around the world to deepen ties of trade and investment, and science and technology, energy and development — all efforts that can spark economic growth for all our people and stabilize democratic change.

But such efforts depend on a spirit of mutual interest and mutual respect. No government or company, no school or NGO will be confident working in a country where its people are endangered. For partnerships to be effective our citizens must be secure and our efforts must be welcomed.

A politics based only on anger — one based on dividing the world between “us” and “them” — not only sets back international cooperation, it ultimately undermines those who tolerate it. All of us have an interest in standing up to these forces.

Let us remember that Muslims have suffered the most at the hands of extremism. On the same day our civilians were killed in Benghazi, a Turkish police officer was murdered in Istanbul only days before his wedding; more than 10 Yemenis were killed in a car bomb in Sana’a; several Afghan children were mourned by their parents just days after they were killed by a suicide bomber in Kabul.

The impulse towards intolerance and violence may initially be focused on the West, but over time it cannot be contained. The same impulses toward extremism are used to justify war between Sunni and Shia, between tribes and clans. It leads not to strength and prosperity but to chaos. In less than two years, we have seen largely peaceful protests bring more change to Muslim-majority countries than a decade of violence. And extremists understand this. Because they have nothing to offer to improve the lives of people, violence is their only way to stay relevant. They don’t build; they only destroy.

It is time to leave the call of violence and the politics of division behind. On so many issues, we face a choice between the promise of the future, or the prisons of the past. And we cannot afford to get it wrong. We must seize this moment. And America stands ready to work with all who are willing to embrace a better future.

The future must not belong to those who target Coptic Christians in Egypt — it must be claimed by those in Tahrir Square who chanted, “Muslims, Christians, we are one.” The future must not belong to those who bully women — it must be shaped by girls who go to school, and those who stand for a world where our daughters can live their dreams just like our sons.

The future must not belong to those corrupt few who steal a country’s resources — it must be won by the students and entrepreneurs, the workers and business owners who seek a broader prosperity for all people. Those are the women and men that America stands with; theirs is the vision we will support.

The future must not belong to those who slander the prophet of Islam. But to be credible, those who condemn that slander must also condemn the hate we see in the images of Jesus Christ that are desecrated, or churches that are destroyed, or the Holocaust that is denied.

Let us condemn incitement against Sufi Muslims and Shiite pilgrims. It’s time to heed the words of Gandhi: “Intolerance is itself a form of violence and an obstacle to the growth of a true democratic spirit.” Together, we must work towards a world where we are strengthened by our differences, and not defined by them. That is what America embodies, that’s the vision we will support.

Among Israelis and Palestinians, the future must not belong to those who turn their backs on a prospect of peace. Let us leave behind those who thrive on conflict, those who reject the right of Israel to exist. The road is hard, but the destination is clear — a secure, Jewish state of Israel and an independent, prosperous Palestine. Understanding that such a peace must come through a just agreement between the parties, America will walk alongside all who are prepared to make that journey.

In Syria, the future must not belong to a dictator who massacres his people. If there is a cause that cries out for protest in the world today, peaceful protest, it is a regime that tortures children and shoots rockets at apartment buildings. And we must remain engaged to assure that what began with citizens demanding their rights does not end in a cycle of sectarian violence.

Together, we must stand with those Syrians who believe in a different vision — a Syria that is united and inclusive, where children don’t need to fear their own government, and all Syrians have a say in how they are governed — Sunnis and Alawites, Kurds and Christians. That’s what America stands for. That is the outcome that we will work for — with sanctions and consequences for those who persecute, and assistance and support for those who work for this common good. Because we believe that the Syrians who embrace this vision will have the strength and the legitimacy to lead.

In Iran, we see where the path of a violent and unaccountable ideology leads. The Iranian people have a remarkable and ancient history, and many Iranians wish to enjoy peace and prosperity alongside their neighbors. But just as it restricts the rights of its own people, the Iranian government continues to prop up a dictator in Damascus and supports terrorist groups abroad. Time and again, it has failed to take the opportunity to demonstrate that its nuclear program is peaceful, and to meet its obligations to the United Nations.

So let me be clear. America wants to resolve this issue through diplomacy, and we believe that there is still time and space to do so. But that time is not unlimited. We respect the right of nations to access peaceful nuclear power, but one of the purposes of the United Nations is to see that we harness that power for peace. And make no mistake, a nuclear-armed Iran is not a challenge that can be contained. It would threaten the elimination of Israel, the security of Gulf nations, and the stability of the global economy. It risks triggering a nuclear-arms race in the region, and the unraveling of the non-proliferation treaty. That’s why a coalition of countries is holding the Iranian government accountable. And that’s why the United States will do what we must to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.

We know from painful experience that the path to security and prosperity does not lie outside the boundaries of international law and respect for human rights. That’s why this institution was established from the rubble of conflict. That is why liberty triumphed over tyranny in the Cold War. And that is the lesson of the last two decades as well.

History shows that peace and progress come to those who make the right choices. Nations in every part of the world have traveled this difficult path. Europe, the bloodiest battlefield of the 20th century, is united, free and at peace. From Brazil to South Africa, from Turkey to South Korea, from India to Indonesia, people of different races, religions, and traditions have lifted millions out of poverty, while respecting the rights of their citizens and meeting their responsibilities as nations.

And it is because of the progress that I’ve witnessed in my own lifetime, the progress that I’ve witnessed after nearly four years as President, that I remain ever hopeful about the world that we live in. The war in Iraq is over. American troops have come home. We’ve begun a transition in Afghanistan, and America and our allies will end our war on schedule in 2014. Al Qaeda has been weakened, and Osama bin Laden is no more. Nations have come together to lock down nuclear materials, and America and Russia are reducing our arsenals. We have seen hard choices made — from Naypyidaw to Cairo to Abidjan — to put more power in the hands of citizens.

At a time of economic challenge, the world has come together to broaden prosperity. Through the G20, we have partnered with emerging countries to keep the world on the path of recovery. America has pursued a development agenda that fuels growth and breaks dependency, and worked with African leaders to help them feed their nations. New partnerships have been forged to combat corruption and promote government that is open and transparent, and new commitments have been made through the Equal Futures Partnership to ensure that women and girls can fully participate in politics and pursue opportunity. And later today, I will discuss our efforts to combat the scourge of human trafficking.

All these things give me hope. But what gives me the most hope is not the actions of us, not the actions of leaders — it is the people that I’ve seen. The American troops who have risked their lives and sacrificed their limbs for strangers half a world away; the students in Jakarta or Seoul who are eager to use their knowledge to benefit mankind; the faces in a square in Prague or a parliament in Ghana who see democracy giving voice to their aspirations; the young people in the favelas of Rio and the schools of Mumbai whose eyes shine with promise. These men, women, and children of every race and every faith remind me that for every angry mob that gets shown on television, there are billions around the world who share similar hopes and dreams. They tell us that there is a common heartbeat to humanity.

So much attention in our world turns to what divides us. That’s what we see on the news. That’s what consumes our political debates. But when you strip it all away, people everywhere long for the freedom to determine their destiny; the dignity that comes with work; the comfort that comes with faith; and the justice that exists when governments serve their people — and not the other way around.

The United States of America will always stand up for these aspirations, for our own people and for people all across the world. That was our founding purpose. That is what our history shows. That is what Chris Stevens worked for throughout his life.

And I promise you this: Long after the killers are brought to justice, Chris Stevens’s legacy will live on in the lives that he touched — in the tens of thousands who marched against violence through the streets of Benghazi; in the Libyans who changed their Facebook photo to one of Chris; in the signs that read, simply, “Chris Stevens was a friend to all Libyans.”

They should give us hope. They should remind us that so long as we work for it, justice will be done, that history is on our side, and that a rising tide of liberty will never be reversed.

Thank you very much.

July 7, 2009
By SANDEEP JAUHAR, M.D.

To meet the expenses of my growing family, I recently started moonlighting at a private medical practice in Queens. On Saturday mornings, I drive past Chinese takeout places and storefronts advertising cheap divorces to a white-shingled office building in a middle-class neighborhood.

I often reflect on how different this job is from my regular one, at an academic medical center on Long Island. For it forces me, again and again, to think about how much money my practice is generating.

A patient comes in with chest pains. It is hard not to order a heart-stress test when the nuclear camera is in the next room. Palpitations? Get a Holter monitor — and throw in an echocardiogram for good measure. It is not easy to ignore reimbursement when prescribing tests, especially in a practice where nearly half the revenue goes to paying overhead.

Few people believed the recent pledge by leaders of the hospital, insurance and drug and device industries to cut billions of dollars in wasteful spending. We’ve heard it before. Without fundamental changes in health financing, this promise, like the ones before it, will be impossible to fulfill. What one person calls waste, another calls income.

It is doubtful that doctors and other medical professionals would voluntarily cut their own income (even if some of it is generated by profligate spending). Most doctors I know say they are not paid enough. Their practices are like cars on a hill with the parking brake on. Looking on, you don’t realize how much force is being applied just to maintain stasis.

I recently spoke with a friend who dropped out of medical school 20 years ago to pursue investment banking. Whenever we meet, he finds a way to congratulate me on what he considers my professional calling. He often wonders whether he should have stuck with medicine. Like many expatriates, he has idealistic notions of the world he left.

At our most recent meeting, we talked about the tumult on Wall Street. Like many bankers, he was worried about the future. “It is a good time to be a doctor,” he said yet again, as I recall. “I’d love a job where I didn’t have to constantly think about money.”

I didn’t bother to disillusion him, but the reality is that most doctors today, whether in academic or private practice, constantly have to think about money. Last January, Dr. Pamela Hartzband and Dr. Jerome Groopman, physicians at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, wrote in The New England Journal of Medicine that “price tags are being applied to every aspect of a doctor’s day, creating an acute awareness of costs and reimbursement.” And they added, “Today’s medical students are being inducted into a culture in which their profession is seen increasingly in financial terms.”

The rising commercialism, driven in part by increasing expenses and decreasing reimbursement, has obvious consequences for the public: ballooning costs, fraying of the traditional doctor-patient relationship. What is not so obvious is the harmful effects on doctors themselves. We were trained to think like caregivers, not businesspeople. The constant intrusion of the marketplace is creating serious and deepening anxiety in the profession.

Not long ago, a cardiology fellow who had been interviewing for jobs came to my office, clearly disillusioned. “I was naïve,” he said. “I never thought of medicine as a business. I thought we were in it to take care of patients. But I guess it is.”

I asked him how he felt about going into private practice. “I’ll be too busy vomiting for the first six months — I won’t have much time to think about it,” he replied.

Of course, there has always been a profit motive in medicine. Doctors who own their own imaging machines order more imaging tests; to take an example from my moonlighting work, a doctor who owns a scanner is seven times as likely as other doctors to refer a patient for a scan. In regions where there are more doctors, there is more per capita use of doctors’ services and testing. Supply often dictates demand.

But financial considerations have never been as prominent as they are today, probably because so many hospitals and doctors, especially in large metropolitan areas, are in financial trouble. More and more doctors are trying to sell their practices, or are negotiating with hospitals for jobs, equipment or financial aid.

At hospitals, uncompensated care is increasing as patients suffering from the economic downturn lose health insurance. Admissions and elective procedures — big moneymakers — are declining. Hospitals are cutting administrative costs, staff and services.

“More and more you’ll see people in medicine get M.B.A.’s,” a doctor told me at a seminar, in a prediction borne out in my experience. “We are in a total crisis, and I don’t know the answer.”

I must admit that part of me wants to see doctors master the business side of our profession. When I hear about executives at health companies getting tens of millions of dollars in bonuses, I am nauseated by the blatant profiteering. As a loyal member of my guild, I want to see doctors exert more control over our financial house.

And yet the consequences of this commercial consciousness are troubling. Among my colleagues I sense an emotional emptiness created by the relentless consideration of money. Most doctors went into medicine for intellectual stimulation or the desire to develop relationships with patients, not to maximize income. There is a palpable sense of grieving. We strove for so long, made so many sacrifices, and for what? In the end, for many, the job has become only that — a job.

Until I went into practice, I never had an interest in the business side of medicine. I sometimes yearn to be a resident or fellow again, discussing the intricacies of a case rather than worrying about the bottom line. “You need to learn a little of the private-practice mind-set,” a doctor friend recently advised me. “You can’t survive with your head in the clouds.”

But something fundamental is lost when doctors start thinking of medicine as a business. In their essay, Dr. Hartzband and Dr. Groopman talk about the erosion of collegiality, cooperation and teamwork when a marketplace environment takes hold in the hospital. “The balance has tipped toward market exchanges at the expense of medicine’s communal or social dimension,” they write.

How this battle plays out will determine to a great extent what medicine will look like in 20 years. This is about much more than dollars and cents. It is a battle for the soul of medicine.

Sandeep Jauhar is a cardiologist on Long Island and the author of the recent memoir “Intern: A Doctor’s Initiation.”

盛力军
2009年6月30日

  西方国际关系研究中关键词是“Power”,译成中文的“势力”,便可窥见到中华文化的博大精深。“力”指实力,仅其中之一而已,况且在“势” 之后,受制于“势”。用力,而不用“势”,构不成全部意义上的“势力”。更为神奇的是,“势”由“执”和“力”组成,古人或许以此告诉后人,“势”执掌“ 力”,是其之主,不能只用“力”而不用“势”。

  何为势?《孙子兵法》有言:若置圆石于千仞之山,翻滚而下,虽然,自重没变,此时,却平添了千钧之力,呼啸而下,势不可挡。此为势也。国家之势力,由其“力”(硬实力和软实力)和其所乘的“势”所组成。强者,失势,则困(如美国昔日在越南和今日在伊拉克);弱者,用势,可转弱为强,甚至化腐朽为神奇。中国与亚细安关系的突破,皆借助于“势”,而非得之于“力”,即借势于七十年代的中美和解,八十年代的越南占领柬埔寨,九十年代的冷战结束和亚洲金融危机。

  《孙子兵法》谈及“势”,寥寥数言,未及深究。但若从中华文化之源的《易经》视之,便可入微。孔子认为,“极天下之赜者存乎卦”,即天下最精微之理存于《易经》卦象之中。《易经》,推天道以明人事,藏天地之玄机,蕴万物之律数,视天地万物存之于“易”,而“易”之道,“时、空、刚、柔”使然也。本文仅借其中“泰”“否”两卦,加以“时空刚柔”,来说明国际关系中的借“势” 和用“势”。

“时”至为重要

  借势增力,时机至为重要。《易经》中五次告诫:“与时偕行”。万物变化,因天之序,“时止则止,时行则行”(《易经》),乘时而动才能用势。《尚书》说:“善以动,动惟其时。”法无优劣,契机者妙。上述中国与亚细安关系的数次突破,皆因天时,才得以一马平川。

  《易经》的“时”,还指时间。万物变化聚于时,成于机。从古至今,最强大的武器往往是时间。刀对刀,枪对枪,是纠纠武夫的较量。用时间对刀枪,天下无敌。使时在己,并能用者,天下第一流的战略家也。在对台战略上,大陆用的便是“时”,使时在己,不在彼,用时间创造时机,进而成“势”。对美战略亦是如此。《道德经》和《吕氏春秋》也曾有言:“大器晚成”。指使时在己,厚积薄发,必成大业。

“空”高深莫测

  《易经》中“时”之重要,显而易见;高深莫测者,当数“空”。“时”仅构成“势”的一部分,守株待兔式的傻等,人人皆会,但机会渺茫。唯执“空”者,机会源源不断。

  《易经》中的“空”指万物(易经64卦中各爻)的位置,组合,对应,形状,空间,大小(实力)。这些均影响着“势”的大小有无。首先,位置,即卡位,至关重要。《孙子兵法》中的“石头”,如果置于平地,无坡可滚,石块再大(即实力再强),不会有势。这是位置不对,卡位不准(限于篇幅,本文在介绍“空” 时,只讲“卡位”)。

  《易经》不是世人误解的听天由命,而是积极进取。其64卦384爻,是列出人生64种大环境和384种小环境,教人如何处置。细细琢磨每卦的卦象、卦辞、爻词和各爻之间乘承比应关系就会发现,它实际上是告诉你,如果你处在这一卦(这一环境),如果你如何如何,其结果就会如何如何。换言之,如果你主动进取,不如何如何,就能改变这一结果。积极卡位就是主动进取,改变不利处境。例如,《易经》的重卦泰卦和否卦均由两个单卦乾卦和坤卦组成,但是乾坤两卦所占的位置各异,上坤下乾为泰卦(吉利),上乾下坤为否卦(不吉)。其实,《易经》是在告诉人们,“天道无吉凶”,即使在不利情况下(否卦),只要积极卡位,改变自己的位置,就可以否极泰来。

  这是由于卡位的好坏决定了机会的大小,进而决定了“势”的强弱。搞政治亦可看作是设位卡位,遇到单个对手,不迎面单挑,而是躲在体制背后,用体制及其在这个体制上所卡的有利位置,产生势,轻而易举摆平对方。即位生势,势生力。

通过新设机制卡位

  外交亦如此。例如,美国冷战后迅速卡位,抢先在亚太地区建立亚太经济合作组织(APEC)。由于这一机制程序设计,即“空”的组合,有利美国,不利东盟(亚细安),即亚细安不是作为一个整体而是被分割成单一国家加入,其影响力大为不足,因而,亚细安(马来西亚)提议建立东亚经济核心论坛(EAEC),意图提高在APEC中与主导的西方国家的要价地位。其后成立的“亚细安10+3”机制使本身实力不太强的亚细安,通过这一卡位,带来“势”,提升了自己的战略分量。

  机制设计得好,可轻易“卡位”,进而可成倍放大其“势”;设计欠妥,反被他人所用。例如,美国在二战后建立联合国时,设立安理会常任理事国否决票机制。再如,建立国际金融货币组织和世界银行以主导世界金融体系。设计时,不是一国一票,而是由各国所缴纳的份额计算分配加票权的多少,即加权投票制。而且,不成文的规定是,世界银行行长只能由美国人担任,国际金融货币组织总裁则必须由欧洲人担任。这一设计,使得西方在其中卡到一言九鼎、稳执牛耳的位置。

  就冷战后东亚多边机制的设计来说,亚细安坚持“亚细安主导”“亚细安方式”,由亚细安国家分别承办,设立议程、题目、进展速度。这是从机制设计上卡位,获得主导权。

  逆向卡位指以常人想不到的方式在常人想不到的位置卡位,以奇制胜。《黄帝内经》中中医要义为:“圣人不治已病治未病。”当肺有病时,西医的药方(手术)肯定是望肺部去的。而中医开的药,不直接奔肺,往往包括两份,一份治大肠。中医认为,肺与大肠相表里,肺部的炎症来自于大肠,这是病源。另一份药则用来保肝。根据中医医理,肺部炎症下一步转移的器官是肝脏。这样,控制了炎症的来源和去向,两头一扎紧,炎症便被控制在肺部。此时,人体通过自身血气自然就会将肺修补好。

  《黄帝内经》这一要义源于《易经》卦象中各爻之间的乘承比应进而形成相互联系相互影响关系,此要义融入并形成了中国战略文化中“圣人不治已乱治未乱”的逆向卡位战略。例如,大陆对台战略便是这种逆向卡位,重点不是直取台湾,立刻统一,而是同时控制其上下两端。上段:着力压制美国对台独的支持力度;下端:通过建立东亚地区多边机制,使台独的任何冲刺都锁定在岛内,不在邻近地区发生连锁效益以改变地区战略框架。这样,上下其手,随着时间的推移,只要大陆不自我折腾,台独必乱。

  再例如,对上世纪八十年代越南占领柬埔寨,中国也是采用逆向卡位战略。上段:外交上逼苏联压越南撤出柬埔寨;下端:与东盟国家和西方紧密配合,将越南扩张封死。这样,数年后,越南吃不起这个消耗,撤出柬埔寨。

  国际关系中卡位增势还包括地理卡位,人文卡位,经济科技卡位,因事因时因势卡位和反卡位等。由于篇幅有限,在此不一一例举。

“刚”“柔”相济,以曲为直

  《易经》中,事物变化(如“势”),既出于“时、空”,又来自“刚、柔”(即动、静、阴、阳、刚、柔)。同是蓄势发力,借势用势,刚柔不一,结果则不一。有时该动,有时则该静守。《易经》中泰卦和否卦分别为吉祥卦和不祥卦。但是两卦初爻均为“吉”。细察之,泰卦初爻爻词为“征吉”,是因其初爻为阳爻,所以,以“征”(行动、阳刚)为吉,柔则不利。否卦初爻爻词为“贞吉”,是因其初爻为阴爻,所以,以“贞”(固本、静守、阴柔)为吉,刚则不利。此两卦所示,天道之行,该刚则刚,该柔则柔,刚柔错用,则是逆天道行事。

  另外,此泰否两重卦均由乾、坤两单卦组成。否卦,下坤(地)上乾(天),天上升,地下沉,天地分开,各行其道,上下阴阳不通,故为否卦(不祥卦)。泰卦,上坤(地)下乾(天),天自上行,地自下沉,上下阴阳相通,故为泰卦(吉祥卦)。此所示:不但该刚则刚,该柔则柔,而且不能纯刚纯柔,而应阴阳贯通,刚柔相交,才是正道,才能造势用势。老子《道德经》中“万物负阴而抱阳,冲气以为和”,想必也源出此卦(泰卦)。这里的“冲气”指泰卦上下阴阳互冲交汇,刚柔相济,才为吉祥之卦。《易经》曰:“刚柔相济。”清代曾国藩总结用兵决胜秘诀时说:“天地之道,刚柔互用。”

  刚柔相济,其结果是“走曲”,而非象纯刚纯柔那样直进直退。《易经》告诉我们,世间万物的变化,最佳路线不是直线,而是曲线。《易》说:“曲成万物而不遗。”所以,老子《道德经》有言:“大直若曲”。这就是其 “反者道之动”的道理。《孙子兵法》说:“以曲为直。”最大的胜利往往是走曲。直来直往,亦可奏效,但往往不用势而用力,因而代价太大,后遗症太多。走曲能扬其长,而避其短。

  中国外交的走曲取胜,首先是不把和美国的关系搞僵,不与其迎头相撞。其次,其融入。西方有句俗话:“If you can’t break it, go with it”,即“斗不过,就顺着它。”但是,古人智慧是,顺着它,又顺势融进去,改变它。换言之,不寻求“物理变化”,即直接挑战改变它的外在形式,而是走曲,顺势融进去,改变它的内在属性。中国最早兵法《六韬》中最高境界是:“太上因之,其次化之。”“太上因之”即顺势用势。一时不能用者,不必破旧立新(物理变化),而是“其次化之”(化学变化),化解之,以求日后水到而渠成。

  在当今相互制约的国际关系中,不横冲直撞,“因之”和“化之”显得格外重要。有时不必重起炉灶,而是,一、利用其中有利因素,“因之”,为己所用;二、“化之”,化解其中不利成分。举亚细安地区论坛为例,中国不是拒不加入,而是进而“化之”。

  对于不能加入的,如美日同盟,美韩同盟等,中国不是采取“非友即敌”的一刀切态度,而是“你发展你的,我发展我的”。一是发展与这些美国盟友的关系来冲淡美国与其的双边关系,使其逐渐松动乃至最终虚化、空洞化;二是发展地区多边外交机制,以多边促进双边。至少使其多个选择,使其对外关系复杂化,促使美国与其同盟国关系的最终“和平演变”。

捆绑战略

  《六韬》中“化之”,仅是“其次”,而“太上”,即最高层次,则是“因之 ”。中国对外战略的“因之”表现得淋漓尽致的是在“全球化”和中美关系上。比较一下美国对华与对苏联政策就可以发现,美国认为苏联具有传统的扩张因子,一直对其采取围堵战略(fence in),封住、堵死。对中国则相反,则是设法把它从独自封闭状态中拉出来(draw it out),融入西方市场,和平演变,来按照西方模式来改造它。

  中国应对的高明之处在于不是像北朝鲜那样用更加封闭来对付美国这一战略,而是“太上因之”,因势利导,接招,顺手牵羊,融合接轨到整个西方乃至全球市场。通过与美国结成经济上的相互依赖,把两国捆绑在一起,形成你中有我、我中有你、一损俱损,一荣俱荣局面,使美国不敢出重拳。这是一着相当厉害的“绵里藏针”、“以柔克刚”战略。

  更为叫绝的是,这不是什么阴谋,藏着掖着,而是阳谋,公之于世(即中国加入全球化,与之接轨)。兵法曰;“太阳,太阴”。即最高层次的战略不是阴谋,而是阳谋,明明白白告诉你,你知道它,但就是无法对付它。最高明的,往往是最简单而又最明显的。

以和为赢

  走曲战略的神来之笔当数“以和为赢”。中国致力于建立多种东亚地区多边机制,与其说是想建成自己的什么,倒不如说防止美国在该地区建立什么。其结果,在亚太地区,多边机制林立,美国建不成自己主导的跨亚太安全机制,中国也建不成严格意义上的东亚共同体。这样,从面上看,美国和中国,谁都没赢,和棋。其实,谁都没赢,就是美国输了。道理很简单:美国需要泾渭分明,早定框架,而中国需要战略空间和时间。这样的走曲,以和为赢,胜过以赢为赢。如果以赢为赢,便会咄咄逼人,不适可而止,反而贪功冒进,结果是,为丛驱雀,为渊驱鱼。不但建不成东亚一体化,反会驱使一些原本中立的国家转而对付自己。所以,《易经》有云:“知终终之”。《论语》曰:“过犹不及”,道家提倡“争为不争,不争为争”,是为此。

  在当今国际关系中,硬实力,易见;软实力,难求;“势”,更为难见难求,变化多端,它是一只“无形的手”,影响着国家实力和外交的实施。美国有第一流的实力,但往往不用“势”,有“力”无“势”,构不成“势力”,因而不是真正意义上的超级大国。中国善于用势,但还没有第一流的力,因而也还未构成真正意义上的超级大国。

  作者是新加坡国立大学李光耀公共政策研究院高级研究员

《联合早报》
2009年6月9日

  近年来,越来越多社会基层的案件在中国发生,例如贵州的习水案、浙江的丽水案、重庆买处案和最近湖北巴东案。这清楚地呈现出中国社会令人忧虑的两大发展趋势。

  首先是基层官员的法律意识和道德水准灰暗面令人吃惊,不得不让人感觉到四处蔓延着一种大面积的制度性的道德腐败。笔者已经论述过,这些现象表明中国基层社会的无政府状态,表明民与权之间、民与钱之间的对立。

  政府本来应该提供社会安全这种公共产品的。如果政府官员的行为、权力的运行本身让人感到不安全,还有什么比这种由政府本身导致的无政府状态更可怕的呢?至少,这比丛林法则更无安全。在丛林法则下,个体之间况且可以凭借自己的能力互相竞争。但在政治权力和资本的结合下,作为个体的社会成员的生存空间就荡然无存了。

  但更为重要的是,这些现象表明中国社会信任正处于一种解体状态。在中国,社会不信任已经盛行多年,并且表现和深入到社会关系的各个方面,包括人与人之间、家庭成员之间、民与官之间、官员之间、政府上下级之间等等。在传统的话语里,这是一种“礼崩乐坏”的状态。

失去对法律的信任最可怕

  在所有社会信任关系中,最恐惧的莫过于社会对法律失去了最起码的信任。法律是任何一个社会运行的框架,但当法律不被社会信任的时候,各种各样的暴力就会泛滥起来。

  就是说,法律起作用的前提是信任。在民与官、民与钱之间没有一点社会信任的前提下,法律就起不上任何作用。

  法律是任何社会必须具备的一个底线,并且往往是穷者和弱者需要法律的保护。如果不相信法律,那么穷者、弱者怎么来保护自己呢?如果他们相信法律俨然成为了富者和强者的工具,那么他们要做些什么来保护自己呢?暴力就是这样产生的。

  浙江杭州的富家子弟飚车撞死浙江大学的学生,肇事人激起了多么大的民愤!但假如是一个出租车超速行驶撞死了人,那么可能就完全是另外一回事了。

  在中国的很多社会群体中,莫名其妙的一个“恨”字正在泛滥开来。人们心中有“恨”,但往往不知道向谁去发泄。因此一旦出现任何一个机会,“恨”就很容易也很自然爆发出来。

  杨佳案件很典型。在这个案件中,警察其实也是受害者,但为什么民心都是在杨佳身上呢?湖北邓玉娇这个案子里,为什么没有人去同情死者呢?所有这些案例里可见民愤已经积累到很大的一个程度。

  人们对事件的关注已经超越了法律本身。很显然,当法律失去保护弱者的作用时,愤怒就会泛滥,而愤怒会进一步削弱法律的价值。这种恶性循环的情况非常让人担忧。长此以往,一个“恨”字就会越来越凸显,就会失去社会的稳定乃至安全。

  权力和金钱结合,凌辱、欺压底层的弱者,这些年来,类似的案例数不胜数。社会底层是最大的受害者。社会作为一个集体毫无保护,社会中的个体更没有得到保护。

  在这样的情况,社会的自卫不可避免。这种情形持续久了,很容易引起社会的暴力反抗。再者,这种暴力往往是自发的尤其是在被迫之下的自发,所以也往往是不可预期的和不可控的。

国家须重建社会共同体

  无论是社会信任的丧失还是继之而来的社会暴力,都是社会解体的结果。这30多年来,随着高速经济发展,中国社会最醒目的一个现象就是社会的解体。

  传统的中国社会,县以下是自治的,由乡村绅士凝聚起一个共同体,有经济、社会和自卫的功能,这种形式持续了几千年,不能说没有效率。1949年以后,这个自然的、自治的共同体就被打破,家族势力等等东西都压制下去(如果不是被完全消灭的话)。

  不过,应当指出的是,毛泽东要“破旧立新”。他想用人民公社和生产队(在农村)和单位(在城市)这种行政建制的方式,来重新建设中国的地方共同体。

  在这种行政共同体中间,人民和政府之间形成一种学术界所说的“隐性契约”,就是说,“你接受我的统治,我为你提供一些基本的社会福利保障”。这个共同体的前提是失去流动自由。在农村,尽管这种行政共同体没有什么经济效率可言,人们也过着很穷的生活,但这个共同体毕竟也还是个共同体,至少还有赤脚医生,有学校。

  改革开放之后,农村的共同体首先开始解体。解体的主要原因是人口流动。工业化和城市化必然造成人口的流动,从这个意义上说,农村的衰败是不可避免的事情。

  在全世界范围内,农村的衰败都是现代化的一部分。但根据西方的经验,在这种不可避免的衰败发生的同时,国家应该花大力气来重建社会共同体。城乡二元体制下的共同体崩溃了,就要求重建公民共同体。

  在西方,这个共同体主要是通过“公民权”的建设来完成的。工业化和城市化带来了人口流动,国家就出来保证公民权,就是政府提供的各种社会保障和服务。

  此外,政府之外也容许和鼓励公民社会如非政府组织的出现,社会通过各种各样的自愿组织来得到重建。就是说,在西方社会的重建是政府和社会各自努力和合作努力的结果。

西方民主是为了遏制资本主义

  在西方重建社会的过程中,政府是站在社会这一边的,目标是消除资本主义和市场经济在追逐利润的过程中对社会共同体产生的恶性影响。资本的目标是要摧毁所有的共同体,把所有的东西变成资本,变成资本过程的一部分。

  这里,西方的民主和资本主义就有一个很大的矛盾,因为民主体制就是要遏制资本主义。把资本主义和民主等同起来是一个很大的误解。

  西方社会从原始资本主义发展到现在的福利资本主义,或者带有福利性质的资本主义,这不是资本主义本身的发展逻辑。资本的唯一本性就是利润,它是不会考虑到社会效应的。

  西方的这个转型是政治改革和社会改革的结果。在这个过程中,一些国家的资本和社会形成了妥协,因此转型较为和平。但也有很多国家,这种转型是通过长期的工人阶级运动和其他形式的社会运动而完成的。

  在亚洲也是如此。日本的自民党一直是以保护农民的利益著称的,到今天还保持着这个政治局面。日本社会没有解体和政府保护分不开,同时社会的支持也是日本自民党能够长期执政的主要因素。

  新加坡政府更为典型。政府一直以来是个“亲商”的政府。中国的“亲商”概念就是从新加坡引入的。为了发展经济,新加坡政府一直非常注重资本和市场的作用。

  但新加坡政府并没有忽视社会共同体的建设。在“亲商”和重视资本作用的同时,新加坡政府从一开始就花大力气发展出一整套能够保护社会的机制,包括“居者有其屋”的住房政策、社会保障、就业、教育政策等等。在每次经济危机来临之时,政府首先想到的也是如何保障社会。社会的支持也是人民行动党长期执政的主要原因。

最大危险是权力和资本走在一起

  改革开放导致了中国社会共同体的解体。这很难责怪改革开放,因为中国不能停留在改革开放前低水平的发展和社会共同体阶段。问题在于,在原来的社会共同体解体之后,就必须重建。

  但中国并没有这样做。当西方新自由主义来到中国之后,对中国影响最大的莫过于社会领域,包括医疗卫生、社会保障和教育。这些领域都是政府应当担负责任的公共服务领域,但可惜的是,在中国这些领域都通过不同的方式让给了市场和各种形式的资本。

  在农村,情况最为糟糕。流出农村的农民到了城市之后为工业化和城市化做出了很大的贡献,他们是中国现代化的一部分,但是他们没有得到任何保护。

  从法律上说,农民工是中国公民,但他们既不能享受城市居民般的公民权,也没有为他们发展出另外的公民权。更为重要的是,他们也不被容许组织起来。处于个体的他们在权力和资本面前显得毫无希望。

  在以往,西方学者常说中国政治是极权主义。但现在中国的危险在于权力和资本走到了一起,并且在很多场合,权力是为资本服务的。这种结合比单纯的资本的力量要大很多,比单纯的政治极权的力量也要大得多,可以把此称为资本极权主义。

  在政治极权主义时代实行的是计划经济。如上所说,政府和人民之间有一种隐性契约,只给你很低的工资,但是也要提供给你一套保障和福利制度,尽管这种保障也只是低水平的。但在资本极权主义的情形下,没有任何契约关系。这个社会里,个体都是原子化的,没有组织的,一旦发生冲突,就只能诉诸暴力。

  这些年中国社会所发生的所有这样那样的恶性事情,大都和社会解体有关。如果不能正视社会解体,那么社会群体之间的公开对立和冲突将变得不可避免。

  中国所面临的选择并不多,要么任其自然,让社会冲突甚至暴力冲突发生,要么通过改革达到各社会阶层的大和解。遏制社会冲突和社会大和解是一个事情的两个方面。

  如何应付社会解体之后的社会冲突?这是中国社会面临的最严峻的挑战。在化解冲突过程,强调法制和法治并没有错,但光强调法制或者法治可能已经无济于事了,因为在没有任何社会信任的前提下,法律已经失去了效用。

  最重要的是加快建设有助于社会共同体重建的社会制度。在这方面,尽管中国可以走自己的路,但不管怎样的路径,也避免不了全体人民可以共享的公民权的建设。

  本世纪开始的社会改革包括社会保障、医疗卫生和教育等,无疑是公民权的主要组成部门。社会改革尽管已经成为中国改革的重要议程,但这些年的进展并不顺利。虽然政府努力不少,但既得利益之间很难达成妥协,更不用说是既得利益和人民之间的妥协了。

  从各个方面来看,中国实际上已经进入了一个改革与社会冲突赛跑的阶段。如果政府不能努力促成各社会群体之间的大妥协,那么社会的激进化就会接踵而至。

作者是新加坡国立大学东亚研究所所长,文章仅代表个人观点