Scrap note (#10)

Back in Shanghai from Dunhuang today. It’s not an easy journey (taxi, overnight sleeper train, taxi, flight, taxi) so multi-dimensional disconnection and raggedness.


Lanzhou, the major gateway city to the West, didn’t win me over. It’s congested, and — upon superficial contact — almost wholly charmless. Given its extraordinary history and contemporary frontier-hub function, that’s a great disappointment. (Despite the grunge, a modest downtown apartment there still costs US$200,000.)

The taxi-ride from the train station to the airport is unusually long because the broken country made it hard to situate runways conveniently. The route we took on the way back took us past the rapidly-arising New Lanzhou City — which is huge. There’s some prospect of a few glitzy modern buildings, if the promotional posters are to be believed. Serried ranks of comparatively tasteful proletarian residential highrises make up the bulk of the New  City so far.


The Chinese West is weirdly comparable to the American West, but historically fragmented. It plays a similar role in the local movie industry, as an imaginative space of heroism, violence, and civilizational fragility. It’s vast, arid, and geographically sublime — recalling the (to me) stunning fact that China’s proportion of arable land is only fractionally larger than Australia’s. Arid mountains, deserts, and harsh scrubby plains stretch endlessly. Dangerous tribes with an exotic nobility populate the Western frontier myths. Foreigners tend to understand — perhaps even overestimate — the American fascination with the frontier, but China’s is nowhere near as thoroughly appreciated. (A fake ‘ancient Dunhuang’ has been created near the real one, catering to the huge appetite of the Chinese movie industry for historical ‘Westerns’.)


In the Occident, the reputation of Buddhism has been almost completely devastated by New Age flakiness, but there are plenty of important things to say about it, and do with it. It’s a religion suited to philosophical appreciation, and no engagement with ontological questions can avoid the Buddhist contribution without self-impoverishment. Consider the crucial NRx topic of time-preference, which — abstractly apprehended — concerns the investment of the future with ontological weight. High time-preference amounts to an estimation of the present as more real than the future, and therefore as more worthy of concern. Buddhism, perhaps most clearly in its hyper-philosophical yogacara strain, accesses this problem with unique directness. English becomes Buddhist when it talks — with systematic ambiguity — about what matters. Attribution of reality is a sink for purpose. Is there an Eastern assault upon high time-preference that orients itself to a dis-investment of the present (as delusion), rather than — in the style of Occidental prudence — a super-investment of the future (as an irrationally-neglected inevitability)?


It struck we with peculiar force quite how ironical it is that those regimes (now defunct) with an overt commitment to the labor theory of value — and therefore to pro-natalist exhortation on economistic grounds — are the ones with the most consistent record of destroying the economic value of labor. To invert the same irony, Deng Xiaoping introduced counter-natalist policies at the very moment (Mainland) Chinese labor was becoming a resource of unprecedented value. Irony is destroying us all, but it isn’t something we cooked up.


Thanks to @ProfessorZaius for passing along the following troll-masterpiece by ‘Amazon Customer’ (reviewing Fanged Noumena, 1.0 out of 5 stars, 14 Feb 2014):

Stick to Stephenie Meyer, for heaven’s sake!
My 15-year-old daughter Tricia is a great fan of vampire fiction, and I bought this for her from a remaindered book stall, thinking it would be just up her street. The rather childish daub on the cover did make me think that perhaps the book would be too young for her, but seeing as it was priced at 40p I reckoned I could not go too far wrong.
This is possibly the worst mistake I have ever made.
From being a happy-go-lucky Goth with a crush on Robert Pattinson, Tricia has become a ‘post-human nihilist’ who stays up all night listening to the sort of machine music that makes your ears bleed and gibbering about the ‘Dark Enlightenment’.
I have written to the book’s author to complain, but received no reply. I am informed by his publishers that Mr Land has in any case disowned all his previous writing and decamped to Shanghai.
None too soon, in my view – but too late for Tricia, I fear.

April 14, 2014admin 7 Comments »


7 Responses to this entry

  • neovictorian23 Says:

    There’s also this from the main – Ms. Carolyn Fine, Shalimar, FL, USA – “Bought this for my grandson who is on a debate team and needed it for research. He is very happy!!”



    Artemisia Reply:

    Look at all her reviews. I don’t know if that is cute or creepy (then again, I think due to some defect in my constitution I seem to have trouble distinguishing the two most of the time).


    neovictorian23 Reply:

    I don’t know if that is cute or creepy

    Both beautifully juxtaposed! In amongst the cookie-cutters and gourmet chocolate-covered coffee beans,we have Fanged Noumena for the grandson…if it wasn’t for all of the other reviews I would consider the possibility that this was a very elaborate gag…wait, maybe the other 28 reviews are just there to support the Land book?

    Best not think about that too much. That way, madness lies.


    Posted on April 14th, 2014 at 5:56 pm Reply | Quote
  • Mark Warburton Says:

    I couldn’t help but chip it on that review when I saw it. Haha.


    Posted on April 14th, 2014 at 6:10 pm Reply | Quote
  • Scrap note (#10) | Reaction Times Says:

    […] By admin […]

    Posted on April 14th, 2014 at 9:06 pm Reply | Quote
  • fake_username Says:

    All good points on China, but I think the fascination with China’s west is muted because the migration is all towards the cities; there’s no gold rush, unless we count some coaxed Han migration into places like Xinjiang, and everything is calm. As much admiration as we may all have for places like Shanghai, though, China’s interior does deserve more attention. The last time I found myself in those small, interior locales nestled between the mountains I was surprised by the standard of living of the agricultural half. The numbers reveal that these people have virtually no income, but they do well producing for themselves and reselling and they often live in houses that eclipse the size of urban apartments that very well may reach prices such as 200,000 USD. Mao perhaps inadvertently taught us a valuable lesson, one we learned in America’s ‘wild west’: if you move quality people out into the wilderness, whether through incentives or force, they will simply improve it. The converse then is also true: give the dregs a city or a civilization and it will collapse. China really can’t be compared to the rest of developing world based on things such as GDP per capita.


    Posted on April 15th, 2014 at 4:55 am Reply | Quote
  • RiverC Says:

    Oddly, West-Buddhism tends to be the opposite, trying to focus on ‘the now’, since the future and the past are illusions… as always, the maxim applies: “Water assumes the color of the container.”


    Posted on April 17th, 2014 at 5:02 pm Reply | Quote

Leave a comment