Thursday, August 14, 2008

More on China's Olympic-sized Lies

As a condition of its being awarded the 2008 Olympic Games, China had promised increased freedom for its people. Now caught in an obvious lie, Chinese leaders are being put in the hot seat. According to the AP via the Wall Street Journal:

The executive vice president of the Beijing organizing committee, Mr. Wang [Wei ] was put on the defensive by a British television journalist who repeatedly asked International Olympic Committee spokeswoman Giselle Davies if the Swiss-based body was "embarrassed" about bringing the Games to China.

China's authoritarian government and the IOC have repeatedly said the games would open the country to social change and stoke breakthroughs on religious freedom and the treatment of the country's minorities.
It is good that China is getting called out for its many abuses and that the International Olympic Committee being asked by the press to defend its decision to host its games in China. There is something deeply perverse about holding a celebrated event such as the Olympics in a nation that denies its people basic freedoms such as freedom of speech and freedom of religion. This is not a question of trading widgets with an individual Chinese businessman to mutual benefit and leaving it to the Chinese to improve their own lot. This is a question of whether a venerated institution in the world of sport should lend its laurels to a government that seeks to use the games to help solidify its brutal hegemony over its own people.

Worse, the Chinese government is attempting to loose its hegemony upon the Olympic athletes themselves by squeching thier ability to worship as they would see fit. According to this report by the Washington Post, Chinese promises of religious freedom for Olympic athletes have not been kept.

China's ruling Communist Party is suspicious of any cause that could compete with its authority, including organized religion. Officially, the party allows worship only at registered churches belonging to a state-controlled organization; non-registered places of worship are closely monitored. The party also bans foreign chaplains' holding services without government permission or proselytizing on Chinese soil.

In the run-up to the Games, Chinese Olympic officials clashed behind closed doors with their international counterparts over the sensitive topic of whether to allow in foreign chaplains.

In Athens in 2004, more than 100 religious leaders speaking several dozen languages were stationed in the Olympic Village. Many had extensive experience counseling elite athletes facing extreme pressure.

While China held its ground on foreign clerics, it promised that it would provide its own chaplains and that athletes would be allowed to worship just as they would in their home countries.

But visitors to the center say that the majority of the 65 staff members there are student volunteers and that, at best, they can speak broken English, French, Italian, Korean and Arabic. All are Chinese.

For the past few days, athletes and others have been marching into the center and asking for spiritual counseling in their native languages. They know that, in most cases, the staff there won't be able to oblige. That's the point.
For all the claims of China's much-vaunted changes, the reality is that China's actions are not all that far removed from when the Society of Right and Harmonious Fists worked to block all foreign influence at the turn of the last century. Philosophic and religious freedom is a fundamental right of sovereign minds, yet here China's ruling clique recognizes no sovereignty other than its own, even when it comes to the freedom of the guest athletes participating in the Olympic games.

I have read that Swedish wrestler Ara Abrahamian threw down his bronze medal in protest against some officiating that he disagreed with. My hope is that an athlete with moral courage would choose to make a similar gesture, but to protest the larger and vastly more serious injustices perpetuated by the Chinese in association with these games. I'm sorry, but as stupendous an individual achievement winning an Olympic medal can be, it is not worth turning a blind eye to the obvious denial of individual freedom that exists in China today.


Edward Cline said...

Nick wrote above:

"This is a question of whether a venerated institution in the world of sport should lend its laurels to a government that seeks to use the games to help solidify its brutal hegemony over its own people."

Roger that. The IOC should have forbidden any totalitarian regime from bidding on the Olympics. Allowing the Olympics to be hosted by a regime such as China's is, whether anyone acknowledges it or not, a sanction of that regime and of all the repression that is part and parcel of its political philosophy. Most of the athletes themselves subscribe to the same dichotomy -- though much more innocently -- that there should be a line drawn between politics and sports, and that's why they're there. But, as with the Nazi-hosted Olympics of 1936, athletes trained in free or relatively free countries are "competing" against state-trained athletes in these Olympics, especially the Chinese ones. It's all such a damned farce that I refuse to watch this year's Olympics, except on news reports.

Ed Cline

Jeffrey said...

I agree completely with what has been said. Hosting the Olympics in China would be like the Greek city-states holding their Olympics at Persepolis!

Richard said...

I fully agree with Ed Cline, but his remarks are not strong enough! My perspective is not just that of a spectator. I have been a competitive swimmer at a number international swim meets.

Even at these semi-privately organized, international meets, nationalism was all too evident. At first it was a real thrill to be on the podium, while our (Canadian) national anthem was played for little ME. Some winners would cry on the podium, as many do at the Olympics.

I can attest that those tears truly do indicate a sense of being a nothing, a mere cog in the wheel, that has somehow won the approval of the collective. "Now they think I am actually worth something."

After a couple of years, I started to admire the podium swimmers for their swimming, regardless of their nationality. My pride on the podium ceased to be nationalistic, _I_ had done it. _I_ was no cog. Long before discovering Ayn Rand, I was starting to 'get' individualism.

When Debbie-Lou Retton won her gold in gymnastics, she was condemned for her obvious happiness and pride. Journalists remarked, "What is wrong with her? She did not humbly cry while the U.S. anthem was played. She is too proud." Debbie-Lou should simply have been admired.

In Atlas Shrugged, Francisco d'Anconia was very athletic and, though he did do sports, he never joined a club or team. He did not need to prove himself to, or gain the approval of, others. Perhaps Retton had a similar character in her context.

Having watched the Olympics, on and off, for decades, nationalism is clearly its constant subtext. It is not patriotism, it is collectivism, even among (most?) American athletes.

I always form a mental "wry smile" when I hear people argue that Olympic sport should be separated from politics. That view is only expressed when the Games are in totalitarian nations. Its proponents default on grasping that the structure and methods of the IOC, of the actual Olympic games, and of the media's reporting of the Games, are entirely organized on political terms, regardless of the nation where the Games are held.

The Olympics ought to be solely for those who enjoy having skill in their sport or game; a skill that they can refine by playing/competing with others of similar mind. There should be no national flag, no parades of athletes in their nationalist clothing, no medal counts by nation, and no opening and closing ceremonies trumpeting multicultural togetherness!

In Canada (and perhaps other Western countries) Olympic and International competitors are expected to build their skills non-professionally... that is, as amateurs without pay. To a considerable extent, that principle is subverted by government provision of facilities, grants for travel and so forth. One way or another the taxpayer supports someone else's personal fetish for a sport. Such taxpayer 'support' is morally wrong and is founded in altruist socialism, and nationalism.

Worse, Western amateur athletes must compete against the professional athletes (by Western standards) of Communist, or profoundly socialist, nations. The latter athletes, as they achieve World Class status, receive free coaching, places to live, vehicles, clothing, great food, exceptional medical care, and political status. No such perquisites are available to the non-Olympic citizen, who is forced to pay for them. Their advantage is enormous.

The IOC completely disregards this amateur vs professional inequity and, on 'principle', treats free and totalitarian nations with moral equivalence. The IOC, like the U.N. runs on collectivist-altruist premises.

In this Olympics, Canada has won no medals (as of this time), while the smaller Australian population has won many (being in third 'place'). Of course, there is now a clamor in Canada for more funding by our government so that Canada can produce a better showing...

Separation of olympic Sport and Politics? A_s!

USpace said...

Great piece, thinking about China being given the Olympics really is maddening. At least more people will be talking sooner rather than later about how there are really two very different Chinas in one.
Maybe in the future it will be in Saudi Arabia or Venezuela.
absurd thought -
God of the Universe says
just host sporting events

communists must always seek
planetary approval

absurd thought -
God of the Universe loves
corrupt governments

denying outside help
with tragic avalanche

absurd thought -
God of the Universe loves
capitalism's faults

but prefers communism
with its many miseries

absurd thought -
God of the Universe says
never admit mistakes

cling to false ideologies
brainwash your countrymen

absurd thought -
God of the Universe says
cause food shortages

implement price controls
destroy all family farms

All real freedom starts with freedom of speech. Without freedom of speech, there can be no real freedom.
Philosophy of Liberty Cartoon
Help Halt Terrorism Today!


Mike said...

I'm not sure it's the same species of nationalism for the West. The West's support of Olympic athletes is not comprehensive in the manner of the totalitarian regimes, nor does it seek to promote the regime while denying the existence of the individual that actually performs. The West instead encourages athletes, of their own accord, to dedicate themselves to being emblematic of our culture and values, including liberty. One could argue that the nation, together and each citizen individually, benefits from the promotion of physical fitness and excellence in competition, as integral components of the underlying culture and values of liberty. A child growing up aspiring to be like the West's Olympians is a stronger and better individual for having been exposed to that excellence and learning the knowledge and understanding what it took for a person to perform at that level and for those reasons.

If the sole purpose of government is the protection of individual rights, and I think there is general agreement here that it is, I would suggest that the protection of rights is inclusive of the physical and mental aspects of the individual. Pre-emptive protection of the physical is an accepted premise of the government: regulation of safe and healthy food and water, screening for toxins, and so forth. Nobody suggests that the state is oppressing its people by mandating that food producers provide true and accurate ingredients lists and sell products free of contaminants, for example. Protection of the mental component spans a broader and subtler application, and one aspect of that protection is the promotion of the values that underlie liberty. Without reaching too far into the theoretical here, I suggest that the West's manner of promoting its volunteer athlete Olympians falls under that umbrella.

Richard said...

The West is merely "on the road" to such nationalism, but has not quite made it explicit.

By the standard Mike puts forth, government has a right to limit the foods we eat and the books we read. Mike says, "regulation of safe and healthy food and water, screening for toxins, and so forth. Nobody suggests that the state is oppressing its people by mandating that food producers provide true and accurate ingredients lists and sell products free of contaminants, for example."

So where does such intervention end? Is it in the bedroom where condoms should be used to limit the spread of HPV? After all, the state has the right to promote athletes, and the things they need in order to be athletes. The same could be said of house builders or strawberry planters.

Leave them alone.

Mike said...

Richard, you've made a conceptual jump from my rationale where none exists in my post. There is a qualitative difference between the government "regulating what food we eat" and regulating to require that food producers accurately and truthfully identify the product they are placing into the marketplace. This reaches into capitalism itself to the fundamental principles of the valid contract.

The public cannot be expected to farm their own food in any capitalist economy that incorporates specialization, and the fact is that there exist people who will take advantage of the division of labor by selling "Protein Cakes" made out of flavored styrofoam laced with glucose. If not regulation by law to counter this, then what? The population playing russian roulette on every grocery-store visit, testing everything they buy at home with a poison-detecting spectrometer?

Richard said...


So, you would have the State determine the terms of the contract between producer and consumer, and you would consider that to be legitimate capitalism?

I believe that approach is not capitalism, so much as Fascism (see 2nd quotation, 2nd P). Under Fascism, citizens retain the right of ownership, but must comply with the decisions of the state when making use of their property. In case it needs to be said, that opens a Pandora's Box of a government's tyranny over the minds of its citizens.

Mike said...

Once again you've read something into my argument that did not exist there. Lay off that poor straw man. I think he's had enough.

In order for capitalists to have the ability to contract freely, they have to have a basis upon which to form the rational expectation that their contracts are enforceable through the rule of law. Otherwise, what is a contract worth? Why contract at all? If a contract does not bind, it is a null entity.

This has digressed pretty far from the original topic, so I'll leave off at this point.

Richard said...

Mike, contract enforcement is necessary to capitalism, but that is not what you have described.

You alter your argument and then say I was missing yours. I suggest you consider what you wrote:
"...regulating to require that food producers accurately and truthfully identify the product they are placing into the marketplace."
That argument advocates legislation re. food labels (etc.), it is not contract enforcement in any way, it is a forceful State violation of producers' rights.

Now, I would argue for a private equivalent of The Better Business Bureau, which would engage in contracts with producers who choose to do so. Then, if the producer reneges on the agreement (that requires they provide full disclosure on labels) there is room for courts to evaluate any breech of contract. That is where contract enforcement comes in.

Returning to your original argument:
Pre-emptive protection of the physical is an accepted premise of the government: regulation of safe and healthy food and water, screening for toxins, and so forth.

An "accepted premise of the government", by what standards? I suggest that premis is "accepted" by those who believe that capitalism cannot function without the oversight and "big stick" of the State. That "big stick" represents the road to Chinese totalitarianism or some variation.

I agree that the nationalism of American athletes differs from that of a Chinese athlete, but only in degree, not in fundamental nature. Their nationalism is NOT simple patriotism.