Americans have been projecting their own fantasies onto China for over 200 years, usually to the mutual detriment of both countries. The British at least had the clarity of mind to acknowledge, with honest cynicism and honest contempt, that they were exploiting and deliberately weakening China through the Opium trade. (And to be fair to the British, nearly half of the British Parliament opposed the Opium War.) But are drugs the only media of fantasies, unreason and degradation? Today, aren’t all too many Americans (perhaps principally among other foreign exploiters of China) peddling other kinds of media in China, and about China, which corrupt minds and morals equally as much, if not more so, than Opium ever did?
China’s official slogan for the 2008 Olympics is “One World, One Dream.” I don’t know who coined that slogan of debased metal, but its style and implication is all too typically American in the worst way of the “darker angels of America’s nature” (to turn Abraham Lincoln’s sublime phrase toward its sinister aspect.) China has become addicted to the American habit of advertising and of confusing commercial popularity with public welfare.
Is the publicity and advertising surrounding the Beijing Olympics becoming a virtual “Opium Den” shared collaboratively by Americans and Chinese? “One World, One Dream”, for WHOM? Or rather, who profits, and who is becoming all the more impoverished and degraded, through the multinational economic “miracle” of the Beijing Olympics?
I am reminded of the final scene of one of my favourite movies, “Once Upon A Time In America”, by Sergio Leone. The protagonist, a somewhat “honourable bandit”, a poorly-born Jewish gangster named Noodles (played by Robert De Niro) witnesses the dissolution of his own “American Dream” and the similar – and similarly corrupted – dreams of the friends of his youth, one of whom commits suicide in the end, destroyed by his own hubris. Then there is a flashback to a moment when Noodles, as a younger man, visited a Chinese opium den in New York. After taking a few puffs, he smiles – or rather, grimaces – the famously artificial kind of American “smile”, the kind which never appeared on Lincoln’s grave, honest, beautifully tragic Saturnian face, but rather the kind of grimace induced by Satan, the Father of Lies, the first “advertiser”, the first “public relations spin-doctor” in the Cosmos.
“One World, One Dream” is a half-truth, and as St Thomas Aquinas said, a half-truth is more dangerous than a total lie, because a half-truth includes some beauty in it. Yes, this is One World, and all Civilisation is one seamless web. But let’s be wary of temptations to believe in “One Dream”, because dreams are perilously close to fantasy, and thus all too close to lies and half-truths, and the Angels weep whenever a “dreamer’s” dreams become artificially induced and thus fit for nothing except to be tossed into the dustbin – or garbage truck – of oblivion.
Here is that scene, with such a haunting and appropriate musical score. It should be contemplated at first more in the heart than in the logical mind – but only in an honest heart, and then with an honest mind following up to think about the scene’s import.