Family units vs. xiao xian rou, or are they even mutually exclusive?

“The most important long-term investment you will make is in your family.” /
“If you have people you truly love, it’s your responsibility to figure out
how to be less busy in order to spend more time with them.”

~Orange Book

Is the definition, structure, and success of the family unit the most consequential social question of our generation? Perhaps it’s worth considering for a moment. It certainly doesn’t seem to be a question confined to the “west,” as the “east” also apparently has its hands full tackling this question, though at least the leadership on the left side of the Pacific appears to be prioritising it, as N. S. Lyons explores in the exceedingly worthwhile article for Palladium, “The Triumph and Terror of Wang Huning,” which starts with a bit about censorship:i

One day in August 2021, Zhao Wei disappeared. For one of China’s best-known actresses to physically vanish from public view would have been enough to cause a stir on its own. But Zhao’s disappearing act was far more thorough: overnight, she was erased from the internet. Her Weibo social media page, with its 86 million followers, went offline, as did fan sites dedicated to her. Searches for her many films and television shows returned no results on streaming sites. Zhao’s name was scrubbed from the credits of projects she had appeared in or directed, replaced with a blank space. Online discussions uttering her name were censored. Suddenly, little trace remained that the 45-year-old celebrity had ever existed.

All of which sounds draconian, antithetical to a free society, and “the terrible kind of thing that could only happen in totalitarian China,” until we recall that basically the exact same thing happened in the US within the last year, except instead of the state un-personing/de-platforming a moderately popular media figure, a consortium of private companies beleeted the sitting President of the United States.ii And now we see what this censorship has to do with the Chinese government’s desire for a certain set of (masculine) cultural values:BTS

Other Chinese entertainers also began to vanish as Chinese government regulators announced a “heightened crackdown” intended to dispense with “vulgar internet celebrities” promoting lascivious lifestyles and to “resolve the problem of chaos” created by online fandom culture. Those imitating the effeminate or androgynous aesthetics of Korean boyband stars—colorfully referred to as “xiao xian rou,” or “little fresh meat”—were next to go, with the government vowing to “resolutely put an end to sissy men” appearing on the screens of China’s impressionable youth.

Ok “little fresh meat” is just plain funny! Who said that the Chinese weren’t capable of creativity and humour? Probably the same racists who think AI can’t be creative and humourous… But if Chinese family (and social) structure is under attack from feminising forces, how does the American parallel compare?

While Americans can, [Wang Huning] says, perceive that they are faced with “intricate social and cultural problems,” they “tend to think of them as scientific and technological problems” to be solved separately. This gets them nowhere, he argues, because their problems are in fact all inextricably interlinked and have the same root cause: a radical, nihilistic individualism at the heart of modern American liberalism.

“The real cell of society in the United States is the individual,” he finds. This is so because the cell most foundational (per Aristotle)iii to society, “the family, has disintegrated.” Meanwhile, in the American system, “everything has a dual nature, and the glamour of high commodification abounds. Human flesh, sex, knowledge, politics, power, and law can all become the target of commodification.” This “commodification, in many ways, corrupts society and leads to a number of serious social problems.” In the end, “the American economic system has created human loneliness” as its foremost product, along with spectacular inequality. As a result, “nihilism has become the American way, which is a fatal shock to cultural development and the American spirit.”

There’s little dispute as to the corrosive nature of “the American condition” over the span of a couple generations post-immigration, but there can also be little dispute as to the incredible innovation, prosperity, and optimism of those first two generations.iv There’s really nowhere else in the world that most refugees would want to live than the United States, and correctly so, for there’s hardly anywhere else where they would find better economic and social opportunities for themselves and their children (metaverse notwithstanding). The American Dream, at least as far as your humble author can see, is well and truly alive. The federated nature of the states also makes it possible for Texas, Nevada, and Florida to thrive while California, and to a lesser degree New York, slit their own throats, all but ensuring that there’s opportunity somewhere in that continent of a country. But where does that leave China?

But Wang is unlikely to be savoring the acclaim, because his worst fear has become reality: the “unstoppable undercurrent of crisis” he identified in America seems to have successfully jumped the Pacific. Despite all his and Xi’s success in draconian suppression of political liberalism, many of the same problems Wang observed in America have nonetheless emerged to ravage China over the last decade as the country progressively embraced a more neoliberal capitalist economic model.

“Socialism with Chinese Characteristics” has rapidly transformed China into one of the most economically unequal societies on earth. It now boasts a Gini Coefficient of, officially, around 0.47, worse than the U.S.’s 0.41. The wealthiest 1% of the population now holds around 31% of the country’s wealth (not far behind the 35% in the U.S.). But most people in China remain relatively poor: some 600 million still subsist on a monthly income of less than 1,000 yuan ($155) a month.

Meanwhile, Chinese tech giants have established monopoly positions even more robust than their U.S. counterparts, often with market shares nearing 90%. Corporate employment frequently features an exhausting “996” (9am to 9pm, 6 days a week) schedule. Others labor among struggling legions trapped by up-front debts in the vast system of modern-day indentured servitude that is the Chinese “gig economy.” Up to 400 million Chinese are forecast to enjoy the liberation of such “self-employment” by 2036, according to Alibaba.

The job market for China’s ever-expanding pool of university graduates is so competitive that “graduation equals unemployment” is a societal meme (the two words share a common Chinese character). And as young people have flocked to urban metropoles to search for employment, rural regions have been drained and left to decay, while centuries of communal extended family life have been upended in a generation, leaving the elderly to rely on the state for marginal care. In the cities, young people have been priced out of the property market by a red-hot asset bubble.

Meanwhile, contrary to trite Western assumptions of an inherently communal Chinese culture, the sense of atomization and low social trust in China has become so acute that it’s led to periodic bouts of anguished societal soul-searching after oddly regular instances in which injured individuals have been left to die on the street by passers-by habitually distrustful of being scammed.

Feeling alone and unable to get ahead in a ruthlessly consumerist society, Chinese youth increasingly describe existing in a state of nihilistic despair encapsulated by the online slang term neijuan (“involution”), which describes a “turning inward” by individuals and society due to a prevalent sense of being stuck in a draining rat race where everyone inevitably loses. This despair has manifested itself in a movement known as tangping, or “lying flat,” in which people attempt to escape that rat race by doing the absolute bare minimum amount of work required to live, becoming modern ascetics.

That leaves China in a similar pickle, it would seem. Which leaves the third option for ambitious young men and women in this post-COVID world. As Balaji would say, we have the choice between (fear-based) Communist Capital, (fear-based) Woke Capital, or (love-based) Crypto Capital, the latter of which, at least in the idyllic little corner devoted to NFT art and collectibles, is filled with genuine love and heart-felt gratitude. Of course, as this little space grows at the rate of crypto², it too will see warring factions pit themselves against one another, as cryptocurrencies did post-2013 hype cycle.

All of which is to say that we should keep our friends close and our frens closer. As 6529 points out, these precious days where we all more or less know each other won’t last forever, or even much longer. Whether it’s the yacht club, hamily, swamp, or what have you, we’ll always have our families, where our voluntary resonance lies. And from that place of love, may we spread these vibes into the rest of our lives.

But as much as pfp “fams” are a real thing, and they certainly are, they’re at their best, most nurturing, most supportive, and most valuable when we love them, which first requires that we know what love is, how it feels, and how it works. It might therefore be humbly suggested that before we dive too deep into the broader world, that we put our own houses in order, as it were, and invest in the relationships of those already closest to us (ie. the relationships with people we intend to grow older with, ideally ones who don’t ask us about floor prices). It’s to our mothers, fathers, wives, husbands, boyfriends, girlfriends, and children that we must turn, then, that their virtuous support might provide us the opportunity to reflexively support them even more, and the broader world as well.

As Aristotle is wont to remind us through the ages, it all starts with family.

CrypToadz Family
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  1. Archived.
  2. As Bruno Maçães, by astute analogy, is keen to remind those of us with shorter memories (archived) :

    As it becomes increasingly clear that Donald Trump is now the presumptive Republican nominee for 2024, the question of his ban from the main social media platforms must come to the fore.

    Imagine instead of the United States we were discussing the Central Asian country of Tarastan. The opposition leader and presumptive challenger to the sitting president has been banned from the national media. How do you think the State Department in Washington would react? Statements would be published bemoaning the grave threats to democracy in Tarastan. Commentators would explain that democracy cannot exist without a level playing field between different political views. An assistant to the deputy assistant to the Assistant Secretary of State would explain: “We do not regard a robust public debate as a weakness. Rather we see it as an indispensable pillar of every democratic society.”

    Now imagine the ruling party in Tarastan explained the decision to ban the opposition leader came not from the state but from private media companies. Oh, what hilarity would ensue. Private media companies, the ones most interested in a vibrant public debate, those companies decided to destroy that very debate of their own free will? You would have to be a paid idiot of the regime to buy that one. What a wonderful coincidence those companies shared the political interests of the ruling party!

    Imagine the ruling party tried a different argument: as it turned out, the opposition leader was a very serious threat to political order. He was conspiring to organize a violent movement. He was spreading lies and disinformation. Democracy will fare much better without his voice in the media. Elections will be much freer.

    Oh boy. This is where things would get ugly. The regime has now lost all pretence and shame. Political adversaries are treated as enemies of the state. And in any case, if a politician has violated any rules, well, those rules need to be clearly spelled out in advance. And the very serious decision to enforce them must be in the hands of an independent, plural, and transparent commission. Perhaps fines can be applied… Banning a political candidate? Only in extreme circumstances where the most serious crimes have been investigated and proved by judicial authorities. Don’t authoritarian governments always use this argument anyway? Aren’t they always ready to accuse their opponents of being a threat to public order and democracy?

    Over the past year or so I have discussed with many people what the reasons for Twitter’s decision to ban Trump really were. Some think the decision was a concession to political and regulatory pressure ultimately traceable to the Democratic Party. Others think it resulted from a movement or current organized inside Twitter by its predominantly liberal employees. In fact, the two theories are perfectly compatible. To return to Tarastan: what do you think would be the judgment of the global community if the ruling party in Tarastan used its influence over the overwhelming majority of employees of a private media group to bring about a ban against their main opponent?

  3. For those less familiar with Aristotle’s position on the practical virtue of the nuclear family, allow Dr. Vernon L. Provencal to bring you up to speed (archived):

    The principal sources for Aristotle’s account of the family are Politics I and II and Nicomachean Ethics VIII. In Politics I, the oikos (family, household) is defined as that specific form of koinwnia (community, association) which integrates individuals into a common life that enables them to become, as members of an oikos, members of a polis (political community, city-state) as well. In Nicomachean Ethics VIII, the family is defined as that specific form of philia (love, friendship) that forms the basis of kinship (suggenikê) rooted in parental love (patrikê), which in turn rests upon the good will (eunoia) of spousal philia. In the spousal relationship, the natural origins of society and political community are overcome and the ethical foundation of human life, for both individual and community, is obtained in the rule of reason. Taken together, the Politics and Ethics define the family as a form of community based on a form of friendship (philia), the principle of which is self-love (philautia). Spousal philia is the true basis of the family in the Ethics, and this is true of the Politics as well, where the oikos is specified as the koinwnia of husband and wife. It is from this standpoint that Aristotle regards the family primarily as an ethical institution that invests natural ties of kinship and affection with meaning and value.

  4. While birthrate is on the decline, there’s also arguably a cultural shift underway in the west away from the “succeed at all costs” boomer mentality towards the “work-life balance” millennial mentality, and it’s arguable that the latter is more family-oriented, or at least more oriented towards stability, as you’d expect in a negligibly growing economy that’s increasingly comfortable with zero-sum sociopolitical games and increasingly uncomfortable with positive-sum socioeconomic games.

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