Flaming Stupidity: The Olympic Torch Mounts Tibet

The March of Folly” is what historian Barbara Tuchman titled her chronicle of the role of willful stupidity in World History.  Her working definition of “political folly” is “the pursuit of policy against self-interest”, of which one operative criterion is “self-deception”, or as I prefer to call it, the unwillingness to think about what you’d rather not think about.  The ancient Greeks called it “hubris”, but 2,500 years of further data from the laboratory of History have elucidated the phenomenon of political folly beyond the Greeks’s initiatory hypotheses.

Tuchman’s list of exemplars of political folly included the Renaissance Popes’ provocation of the Protestant Reformation, the British Government’s unnecessary provocation of American independence, and how America “betrayed itself” in the Viet Nam War.   To that list, now we can add the idiots who were instrumental in China’s decision to include Tibet in the Olympic Torch Route, whose willful stupidity includes the (to use a criminal law term of art) “aggravating circumstance” of actually planning to mount (sarcastic phallic allusion intended) the torch on Mount Everest, one of the most prominent symbols of a land against whose people, and against whose traditional religion, the atheist Chinese Communist Party is mortally hostile. 

Now, although history and its subordinate “social sciences” shun monocausal theories – because Human behaviour is unpredictable, interdependent and its causes and effects (as in material Nature) are mutual – still, some events and deeds are more significant than others, most especially those involving symbols.   And as the employment of, and susceptibility to, symbols is the peculiar specialty of Man above all species, political acts involving symbols are among the most prominent causes of historical changes for good or ill.  Alas, given Tuchman’s law of folly being the rule rather than the exception in history, the results of excessive employment of political symbols – otherwise known as propaganda or, synonymously, “public relations” or “publicity”, usually tend to bugger things up in direct proportion to their overuse, especially when employed by hubristic regimes besotted by their own self-perceived roles as “great, or rising, powers.”   Like China’s.

And now, consequent to China’s decision to “mount” Tibet with the Olympic Torch, now the government of Nepal – which has to a considerable degree become a satellite, or at least subordinate state to China – has agreed to block access to Mount Everest until after China completes its publicity stunt, as a prophylactic against possible anti-Chinese protests in that region.  But, perhaps unknown to many in the West, the region around Mount Everest has been one of the few avenues of relatively unguarded (even if difficult) permeability between Tibet and the free world.  With the closing of the area around Mount Everest, now Tibet is in the process of becoming almost totally isolated from the outside world, somewhat analogously to East Berlin during the Cold War.  But there will be nothing analogous to the “Berlin Airlift” for the now even more thoroughly imprisoned people of Tibet.  Is it any wonder, then, that the Tibetans have chosen THIS moment to attempt one final outcry to the outside world, before their own “Iron Curtain” descends around them?

Thus, China is experiencing the “law of unintended consequences” in action.  This kind of folly is not TOO surprising for a self-enamoured, still essentially closed regime whose intolerance of public dissent or open information, not to mention their nearly total ignorance of History, naturally tends to render them stupid.  But then one must wonder, what the hell were China’s WESTERN “public relations” experts thinking when the advised the Chinese on how to manage the “public relations” of the Olympic Torch and its route?

We know who designed the torch; it was designed by Lenovo, as was announced by China’s BOCOG (the bureaucrats responsible for all this) simultaneously with their announcement of the torch’s route.  But it is NOT clear who suggested the torch’s route – whether it was one of China’s Western “public relations” consultants for the Olympics, or whether it was suggested by some ignorant CCP crackpot.   Still, the question remains, IF China’s Western – and thus, presumably more sophisticated about history, politics and symbols – public relations consultants were at least aware of China’s intention to bring the torch to Tibet and mount it upon Everest, why didn’t they at least warn the Chinese that they were courting a public relations disaster (at the very least), and then dissociate themselves from the ill-fated project?

On the other hand, if in fact the Western consultants were the ones who came up with the idea of “mounting” Tibet with the torch, then they have earned a special kind of “Darwin Award” for themselves as well as for China.  There are some things that you just don’t do – like (if it were possible) mounting an Israeli flag on top of the Kaaba in Mecca.  Granted, the Torch scandal differs from that hypothetical example, but only in degree of the powers of the symbols involved; otherwise the dynamics are equivalent in the clash of symbols and in the, not just disregard, but CONTEMPT FOR, the religious sentiments of the offended peoples.

Admittedly, the example of planting an Israeli Flag on top of the Kaaba is hyperbolic, while the folly of the Olympic Torch is a more pedestrian (not to mention less personally daring), more ludicrous kind.  Actually, although I personally revere the Kaaba and the Koran (although I am not a Muslim, I do revere Islam’s symbols), I would at least have some persona l respect for the courage of any Israeli who dared even to enter Mecca with an Israeli flag, even though I would consider his deed to be dishonourable and deserving of death.  So, perhaps a more closely analogous example of things you “just don’t do” – things like “DON’T MOUNT TIBET WITH CHINA’S TORCH” – is this one from Ren and Stimpy:  “Don’t Whizz On The Electric Fence”:


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5 Responses to Flaming Stupidity: The Olympic Torch Mounts Tibet

  1. The late Italian Orientalist Professor Giuseppe Tucci made several expeditions in Tibet starting in the early 1920″s. He also spoke Tibetan fluently. Professor Tucci was a friend of my great-uncle Gislero Flesch, a criminologist and ethnologist. I met Tucci at Gislero’s gilded and splendid penthouse near the Quirinale in Rome. I believe he also knew Alexandra David-Neel. They talked mainly about the powerful psychical and spiritual fores present in Tibet. Some Lamas could read thoughts, others had the ability to create or stop avalanches, still others had CHI- the touch of Life or Death.

    In the middle eighties I received a contract from the CCP in Shanghai to build a hotel in the Long Hua Temple and Pagoda complex overlooking the Wangpu river. The Panchen Lama was taking a personal interest because it was going to be the first hotel for Buddhist pilgrims. Shanghai Lady ( yours truly ) was chosen because of my family ties to Sbanghai, my position as fashion consultant to the Textile Industry and because I had suggested an architectural style which would be consonant with the temple and the Pagoda. A style which, when the work was completed blended so well with the structures and the river that the pilgrims would think the hotel, which was not higher than the temple had been there for centuries.
    I expressed a wish to visit Tibet, particularly Lhasa and Potala Palace. Permission was granted, although two Buddhist monks from Long Hua Temple accompanied me.
    At that time, the Chinese authorities were bending over backwards to come to an entente conrdiale with the Tibetan people. True, they were poor in comforts and in possessions, but there was a splendid spirituality and joy ever surrounding them and everyone who spent time there.
    Back to the present. The twits who “advised” the Chinese Olympic Committee to mount the torch on Mount Everest may in all probability be saboteurs. It’s an old trick, and it almost always works. Suggest an outlandish idea, something awesome and extraordinary… Indeed it will create a great arc of instability, discontent, resentment and bloodshed. But – it APPEARS a wonderful propaganda Oops, PR/ spin stunt. The Chinese authorities are up a schucke. IF they back down now, they will lose FACE. Once that’s gone what else is there? Now is their chance to pull out their resourcefulness. Spring rains can cause avalanches, slides, and other phenomena. The problem with that is that US spy satellites will be reporting if indeed such phenomena have taken place. Fear not. Since the news we receive is almost always censored, dare we believe the spy satellites that the Chinese are lying about the landslides? I don’t think so. An artful compromise might be to have a Tibetan runner or runners accompanied by a Lama and plant the torch on Mount Everest.
    To reiterate, the defective individual /individuals who thought up this sinister way of starting a war or at the very least the stabilization of an already volatile region should be done in by a Sifu from Shaolin with the CHI death touch.
    When I first arrived at my favorite hotel the Heping or Peace Hotel on Nanjing Dong Lu, the conceirge was watching a black and white filmcalled The Lady from Shanghai”. It was the divine Dietrich, She wore a severe tailleur, a fedora and her blonde hair was wavy. I always dressed to kill imy Chinese forays. Shanghai was then still in a time warp – I am talking about 1983. The resemblance and the look was not lost on the Concierge who spoke French, English, German and Russian beautifully. They found my name too long, so it became Shanghai Lady. The word was spread by the sophisticated Shanghainese cadres .Chu Rong Ji, then the Mayor promised me they would restore the old including my family’s mansion on Wui Hui in the former French concession to its former glory and they would build structures which would take my breath away.
    Despite its faults, Shanghai is the greatest Megalopolis in the world. It is one of my favorite cities.
    N. B. The spin doctors must have brought up the idea of the torch on Mount Everest to a native Beijinger. It would not have happened if they had been Shanghai natives. Too street smart. Con artists cannot be conned.I mean that in the nicest possible way.

    Shanghai Lady – Contessa Isabella von Vacani

  2. Ned Kelly says:

    Dear Contessa Isabel,

    Welcome back; your thoughtful comment has shone yet more light upon a situation which, in my most recent post about it, seems to be turning into something resembling the Nazis’ “Nacht und Nebel”, “night and fog”.

    I’ll respond to your comment at greater length later. Meanwhile, just a thought about those Tibetan Lamas who reputedly are able to “stop avalanches”: I of all people believe in psychic phenomena, the superordination of spirit over matter, and so-called “extraordinary” phenomena. However, not every apparently “extraordinary” phenomenon involves special powers. For example, there’s a scene in the Australian movie, “Lucky Miles”, in which an Aborigine bush-ranger predicts the weather for his White friends. They’re astonished; they assume it’s some kind of special Aboriginal power; “How do you do that?” they asked him. He said, “I heard it on the radio.”

  3. Ned Kelly says:

    Dear Contessa Isabel,

    A few more thoughts:

    1. Without doubting the goodwill of your hosts in 1983, I raise an eyebrow when you say you were accompanied by two “monks from the Long Hua Temple”, because they certainly would have been subordinate
    to the Communist Party, ie, NOT representatives of the followers of the Dalai Lama. But perhaps not particularly hostile to him either? I’m not well informed about how much – if at all – the officially authorised Tibetan religion in China resembles that of the Communist-controlled “Catholic” Church, in which although subordination to the Vatican is proscribed, there is considerable overlap between clerics appointed by the Vatican and those appointed by the Communist Party.

    But still a part of me thinks even more of how the Russian Orthodox Church hierarchy was suborned and infiltrated not only by the Communist Party, but by the KGB. Then again, the Russian Church has ALWAYS been especially nationalistic and subordinate to the state, immensely more so than the (essentially universalist) Roman Catholic Church. And at least (except perhaps under the Communists, but even that’s debatable) the leaders of the Russian Church WERE Christians – a very different situation from China.
    The idea of the atheist Chinese Communist Party deciding which Lamas will receive government permission to reincarnate, is equally absurd as the prospect of the CCP designating the Hidden Imam of Shiite Islam, or deciding when and where Christ will return.

    2. I don’t share your faith in the power of technology, such as satellites, to reveal much usable information or intelligence, let alone to counteract the historical Law of Willful Stupidity.

    3. “The twits who “advised” the Chinese Olympic Committee to mount the torch on Mount Everest may in all probability be saboteurs.” Maybe. But IF they were saboteurs, I doubt that they were Western saboteurs. Western idiots is the more likely explanation.

    4. Zhu Rong Ji is, in my opinion, one of the smarter and more decent guys among China’s leaders. Actually I even have some very reserved respect for Jiang Zemin; at least he has good taste in women. His “special friend”, the singer Song Zu Ying, really does have talent, and she’s a hot babe; too bad her talent is wasted on ridiculous songs about “national minorities” singing “thank the Communist Party for creating these beautiful hills” while they wear ersatz “folk” costumes on CCTV gala events. But Shanghai Jiang Zemin had more sense, and maybe even better ethics, than that bolt-headed drone Hu Jintao.

  4. The monks from Long Hua Temple were not representatives of the Dalai Lama I would not have conducted any business with them otherwise..

    They were highly intelligent and street smart men close to if not part of the CCP. That was not the point. The emphasis here was on the hotel to house foreign pilgrims who could chant, pray and meditate in Mahayana, Hinayana , Zen or Tibetan Buddhism. It was a portentous event for China. Granted, it took place in Shanghai which has always been a world unto itself
    Two Jesuit friends, one French-Canadian and the other, a Scotsman, had free run of China. One taught French at Istituto Sinnica, Yes, that is the Latin name the Chinese used. The other Jesuit taught English at Tung Chi University.

    The Cathedral of Saint Ignatius Loyola in Shanghai has been restored to its former splendor. Jesuits from the Jesuit Curia in Rome officiated at the Mass on Christmas Eve in the 1990’s.

    In the bad old times of the Shanghai of the 30’s they called it The Temple of the White Mandarins. The Jesuits wore white cassocks and they were Caucasians as well. Then of course they were learned men. The Chinese overlooked many of their faults because of their intellects.

    I have never been that keen on doing business in Beijing. In fact, I snubbed them entirely. Compared to the savvy and clever Shanghainese they are bumpkins. I am not surprised they fell for the stupid suggestion of using Mount Everest.
    Contessa Isabella Vacani

    Another thought comes to mind vis-a-vis the disturbances in Tibet. They could be inspired if not financed by gwailo elements. It’s happened before.

  5. Pingback: A reminder: the torch was designed specifically for Tibet « Under the Jacaranda Tree

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