Melamine or the might of the dragon

When Felipe Massa drove off with the fuel-line attached to his Ferrari during the Singapore Grand Prix, effectively ending his challenge for the Formula One World Championship, techno-phobes were up in arms.  Most of them cited the fact that if Ferrari had stuck to the manual signaling system – instead of relying on this newer semi-automatic one – Massa might still be in contention for the title.  In effect, the techno-phobic claim is as follows: if each of the Ferrari pit crew had been independently functioning units, the accident would not have happened; it then follows that this is the danger of over-connectedness and being part of a network. 

This claim is hardly a new one.  In fact, ever since the Internet has become part of daily life, this version of the doomsday chant has been ever increasing in volume.  In fact, this is a mere variation of every protest against the inception of a new technology since the dawn of time.  The underlying claim of the techno-phobe has always been the same: ‘I want to remain independent – cut-off – from the rest of the world’ which translates to ‘I want to maintain my own designated space so I can be who I am, so that I can know my own self’. 

This need to know one’s own self is the very same reason why there was an outpouring of rage at the People’s Republic of China over the recent melamine-tainted milk scandal.  For the anger was surely not directed at the fact that there were foreign agents in the food: that has happened so many times in the past that one almost expects it.  Nor could the outrage be due to the fact that the authorities had known about the potential poisonous agent a few months before the scandal broke but covered it up to protect their image ahead of the Olympics: such cover-ups are so commonplace that an open admission before a major event would have been an even bigger shock to us.  This world-wide anger over the milk scandal was due to two things.  Firstly, China’s central role in the world can no longer be denied: a local event in China ends up poisoning people from around the world – the People’s Republic of China has announced that their arrival on the world stage can no longer be ignored.  Secondly, and more importantly, no one can unplug themselves from this connection: whether we like it or not, most of our products go through China in own way or another: any localized problem is not only just a global problem in a conceptual sense, it is now effectively also our problem.

This means that not only are we unable to cut ourselves from our link with China, but by extension, if we are no longer able to delineate ourselves from them, our definition of our selves is no longer as fixed, as determined.  Hence, regardless of our nationalities, we are in effect part-Chinese.  In some sense the direct translation of China as the “middle kingdom” which suggests that China is the ‘centre of the world’ is coming true – and this fact which is becoming increasingly difficult to ignore is making us uncomfortable.  We see this anxiety over our own selves play out in daily acts of discrimination at foreign workers which range from accusing them of ‘taking our jobs’ to ‘not assimilating to our culture’ and ‘bringing their dirty habits from their homeland to our shores’, all of which are manifestations of attempts to differentiate them from us.  For only if this other is clearly determined can our selves be secure again. 

In the case of the milk scandal, an outpouring of scorn serves to delineate the People’s Republic of China as the enemy: by accusing them of negligence, and even of being ‘murderous capitalists who would poison milk just to gain a quick buck’, we then – by oppositional logic – get to cast ourselves as people with a conscience, and more importantly as people that wouldn’t have done the same thing, and therefore as people who are different from them.  Since just about every product seems to pass through China at some point, there is an added element of fear that anything that contains milk is now potentially poisoned.  Hence not only is there anger against China, it is reinforced by a climate of fear, of collective paranoia: after all, as Hitler and Goebbels have taught us, there is nothing that motivates an angry mob more than fear of the enemy.  In this way, fear serves a dual function: it both creates a mob, and mobilizes that very same mob against the enemy.  

This is the world attempting to make its futile final stance against the People’s Republic of China: this is all of us desperately claiming, ‘we are not you’ …


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