Undoubtedly; building consensus has become an urgent problem in China.
Previously, Phoenix TV presenter Mr Qiu Zhenhai said in his program ‘a newspaper for every day’: Chinese society urgently needs to reach a consensus, and this consensus is that the issues of a market economy should be addressed within a market economy framework, you can’t solve the issues of a market economy using the ways of thinking of the planned economy era. Mr Qiu also quoted the ‘chief architect’ saying: ‘We must hinder the left, we must also hinder the right, but the most important is to hinder the left’. Obviously, this is directed at the current ‘Chongching model’.
We must admit that Mr Qiu’s views are very ‘moderate’, so moderate that they’re even getting a bit hypocritical. This is like presenting someone with a painting of a beautiful woman to be their wife – and although she doesn’t lack in perfection, actually marrying her is the difficulty.
Or we can say: is there anything wrong with saying that we must solve the issues of a market economy within a market economy framework? Of course, there isn’t. However, a little fact I came across recently made me discover that this is an empty argument. I occasionally talk with a friend about genetically modified crops and food security issues. This friend said very firmly: there’s no problem with genetically modified crops and genetically modified food! I said: “You and I are not experts in that field, how could we come with such a clear-cut conclusion? And even the experts in that field, how could they understand the political and economic issues that lie behind the question of genetically modified food?” But this friend was still not convinced, and remained desperate to defend his position. But later we learnt that the reason he’d been so desperate to defend his position was that his son works in the genetically modified foods industry, and he defended the view that ‘there is no problem with genetically modified foods’ in order to defend his son’s job. I thought: if I invited a few friends to vote on this issue, the number supporting genetically modified foods is likely to be higher. Why? Because the reasons given by opponents of genetically modified foods are too weak in confront to the job opportunities offered by the genetically modified food industry.
Another time, I discussed the problem of inflation with another friend, and that friend strongly recommended collecting mahogany furniture. I said: ‘Do you know what it will mean if many more people become keen collectors of mahogany furniture? It means that, in order to satisfy our hobby, large numbers of rainforests will disappear, and the fate of those far away forests in Africa and South East Asia is not unrelated to our own future lives”. My friend naturally thought my view was pedantic and ridiculous. In his view, the question of protecting the environment and saving resources were just white elephants in comparison to the current necessity to invest in order to hedge against inflation.
From these two small anecdotes, I cannot see any real possibility to ‘solve the problems of a market economy within a market economy framework’. People are selfish animals. When human selfishness will ultimately jeopardize their own self-interest, people will naturally choose to suppress their own desires; when people’s desires will harm the public interest, the public interest will curb people’s desires. These are the assumptions of the so-called principle of ‘solving the issues of a market economy within a market economy framework’. However, in the reality of life, what we see much more is that, even if people pay a terrible price for their own selfish desires, yet they will not curb their desires! Will people give up driving when exposed to increasingly terrible traffic jams? They won’t. Because driving a car is no longer just a mode of transportation for people, but it has become irremediably combined with the preservation of some sort of identity. Will people give up the pursuit of fame and fortune because of increasing degradation in the social and natural environment? They won’t. Because the capitalist way of life and its values has already become a collective form of obsession, and this kind of obsessive compulsive disorder will end up herding up people in the ‘crematory’ of a major social or economic crisis, and it’s not going to stop.
Therefore, a consensus according to what Mr Qiu Zhenhai said, based on the principle of ‘solving the problems of a market economy within a market economy framework’, is a soulless consensus, lacking in a measure of value, and therefore, is only a consensus that will defend the lifestyle and values of the bourgeois and petty bourgeois. The essence of this consensus is just to continue the capitalist way of life and its values, and who cares if it only brings destruction in the end.
Of course, the ‘consensus’ needed against the bourgeois and petty bourgeois is not the past consensus of the planned economy period, which allowed for unlimited expansion of the State power, drowning individual freedom and the dignity of human life. In fact, any consensus built at the level of physical and instrumental rationality is unreliable. Inevitably, because people live in different situations and hold different values, they will consciously put themselves in a certain class, and feel contempt or hostility towards other classes. And so, is there anything like a higher order consensus?
If there is one, it is a humanistic consensus built on the basis of human consciousness.
You cannot negate the value and dignity of human life, this is the only thing we can establish as a higher level consensus. Some people may say: this is nothing new, is this not what the topic of ‘people orientation’ is all about? True, the consensus on the proposed terms is nothing new. But what I would like to say is this: a consensus that is not defended is not called a consensus. We might have heard enough about the so-called ‘people orientation’ from the propaganda machine. But in real life, the values of ‘people orientation’ are still trampled underfoot everywhere. When we face these people and events that trample on the consensus, do we have effective accountability mechanisms, and a way to defend our consensus: this is the crux of the problem. For instance: whether some clearly identified people or events which trample down the ‘people orientation’ receive the ‘final canonical punishment’, this is the only fundamental judgement about the existence of a consensus in our society! Undoubtedly, sweatshops and polluting factories have trampled this consensus, but will our society let them get away with it because they generate profits? Undoubtedly, violent destructions of buildings have trampled this consensus, but will our society spare them because they speed up the process of urbanisation? Undoubtedly, the destruction of the most basic human and moral values in the name of ‘economic development’ tramples the consensus, but will we turn a blind eye because it nurtures our dream of living in a powerful country?
And so, we do not actually need to build a different consensus from that of ‘people orientation’, more to the left or more to the right. We just need a consensus that truly defends ‘people orientation’. Sometimes, without a life and death struggle, there is nothing to defend. But a consensus undefended, would not be called a consensus.