Wednesday, April 8, 2015

It's complicated

Many people who use terms like "soft power" or "hard power" really don't know what they are talking about.  It is not that the terms are stupid -- just our use or abuse of them. I'm as guilty as anyone else here.....


For example, when I first heard the term, “soft power”, I automatically thought it was not a antonym for “hard power”.   However, "Soft power" and "hard power" involve completely different concepts of "power".

Think of the word "food".  Bacon and fruit are both foods -- but, of quite different kinds.  "Food is food" you say. Not to a vegetarian.


And in a similar way, people conflate "soft power" and "hard power" as two aspects of the same thing, respectively seduction (covert coercion)....


... and bullying (overt coercion). 

Sadly, it is more complicated than that.  An intellectual clusterfuck, in which somebody gets stuck. 

Let's try and get this unstuck.

Leaving aside the issue of coercion, “Soft power” is the perceived attractiveness of a culture –its “pluses”—the stuff that makes you like it or respect it -- and adds up to general admiration.    A better term would be (perhaps) NAQ -- National Attractiveness Quotient.


Its opposite would be a society’s perceived ugliness – it’s  obvious flaws—the stuff that makes you hate it and which people who belong to the culture try not to think of....  Call it:  NUQ -- the National Ugliness Quotient.

Not Yummy

Subtract one from the other and you get an overall IRQ--International Respect Quotient, keeping in mind that, no matter what you think of yourself, others' judgments matter a lot, too. Them foreigners (the ones you haven't blown to bits) matter.

Splatter Matters

Now the assumption of most people who use the term "soft power" is that a nation can influence its general attractiveness -- that is, its scores in these "tests" -- through "public diplomacy" (aka: propaganda).  

Can it?

Only marginally.  It's like IQ.  No matter how much you work at it, you can only raise your score by about 10 points.

Yes, you can be smarter!

Who does the scoring?  People outside the nation.  And a governmental program to influence them is either bribery or the equivalent of wearing a shirt and tie to a test -- or a cheat.  Or, in the case of IQ tests, tutoring -- which really does little but make you feel more confident. Most public diplomacy is a Facebook fail for Ahmed and Ivan.

America Un-Friended

Controlling the  perceptions of the scorers is nearly impossible, without total control over their lives and everything they do – from infancy on-- which would mean a "hard power" action, such as when Japan took over Korea and tried to erase their language and culture and make them Japanese (as the Japanese had done with the Okinawans) -- not that that worked out all that well in either case.

Hard Power Fail

It is difficult enough to control people's minds inside a culture – as we have seen in the case of Chinese and Russian communism – it is not going to happen outside--not at least without draconian violence and suppression.

"Active Dialog"

In other words, only "Hard power" really comes close to getting the job done -- and you have to go all out.  But even then, chances are you will not succeed.

Kill'm or Starve'm

Kill’em or starve’em --"hard power" is understood as offensive capability-- militarily or economically-- the ability to wage war in either way.  Whether or not you use this capability is immaterial -- it is the coercive power of the bully. 

Penis Extenders Come in Many Forms

What kind of people become bullies?

Insecure people.

So, Shintaro Abe is not content with Japan's defensive capability - -which, as the world's 9th largest military power -- is not inconsiderable -- he wants the ability to project force beyond Japan's borders.  

There is a much difference between defensive capability -- call it a nation's Defense Quotient or DQ and its offensive capability -- it's Offense Quotient or OQ.  

Something for the Backyard

For example, socialist Sweden under Palme had a DQ--  it was capable of almost 100% mobilization  in mere days, with superbly engineered fighter aircraft hidden in the woods and taking off from highways.   The country was careful who it sold weapons to -- it was in all respects neutral and even-handed.  A country at peace -- of peace. A country that people respected -- and a minimal Offense Quotient.

"Soft" Stuff

Today's Sweden is different, of course.  Now, Sweden is  part of NATO's gang, if not an actual member -- and it's defensive capability has been complemented by offensive capability -- which makes it a threat, where it was not before.  NATO is a bully. Which makes Sweden a bully, too, even if it's soldiers are prettier.

The New Sweden

By "hard power" we therefore generally mean a nation's Offense Quotient-- not its Defense Quotient, which is rather different and needs to be kept separate.

For example, the US has a huge Offense Quotient, relative to its Defense Quotient, as we saw on 9/11 when the military found itself at a loss trying to get fighter jets in the air at the right time and right place.

Defense Fail

Russia,  in fact, has a much better ratio, if we compare their Offense Quotient (OQ)  and their Defense Quotient (DQ)--much of its military capability is defensive.

Stand Your Ground Accessories

"Hard power", as the Americans define it,  is flexing muscles, flaunting  tattoos, and waving a gun -- and shouting, "I'm exceptional -- I don't have to follow the rules". 

The American Dream

Bullies are ipso facto : not very  likeable, although they may attract hangers on.  OQ is all about violence.  As we have said - -not just militarily -- but economically too. Bullies have fast cars. They have bling. Which helps them recruit similarly minded thugs hopeful of getting ahead. 

And the most successful get to be billionaires.

Bling! Bling!

What I call the IRQ (International Respect Quotient) is a measure of a nation's ability to share, communication, cooperate, and show respect and empathy for others on an equal basis.  DQ fits this mindset because it is non-coercive, which is why Switzerland still gets a lot of respect.


Military Cosplay

Governments of powerful states ignore such troublesome contradictions in their efforts to use "public diplomacy" to rationalize their bully tactics.  So, we say, we didn't bomb Iraq because we wanted their oil and to shore up the dollar -- we did it for freedom and democracy.   Similarly neocolonial exploitation is"aid" or the "free market". This is classic Doublethink.

So, the "hard power" and "soft power" concepts bruited about these days really support an authoritarian social psychology and philosophy. 

The American Way of Life?

Joe Nye has made it very clear that "soft power" is the teflon covering for a steel claw that rips your heart out.   

Yup!  Doublethink
Inevitably, soft power programs are designed to build confidence at home, rather than garner international respect -- they are almost entirely domestic in their focus.   They are simple propaganda campaigns  which attempt to sell certain things to a national population, in the way that other products are marketed.  In essence, the commoditize a nation.

You are what you sell!

This approach has two advantages. First, money flows to advertising companies and the media, who then are more supportive of government and right-wing constructions of reality -- that is, "inverted" or "subtle" authoritarianism.  Secondly, the concepts being sold appear "non-political" -- since they are based on accepted social memes, so there is not a lot of persuading to do. 
"Buying American" = Buy America. 

But when your underwear is a mark of national identity, or a statement of national value, you are in serious trouble, on your way to stars-and-stripes (or hinomaru) tampons.

Nation Branding

Are skid-marks treason?  I will leave that with you to ponder.

The more money a government throws at "soft power" and "nation branding", the more obvious the contradictions are.
If you are going to be a whore -- at least be tasteful -- you make more money. 

When Soft Power =Hard On
To our various other categories, we must also add NBQ. The National Bullshit Quotient. 

Japan's National Bullshit Quotient?

In Japan, for example, “Cool Japan” pushes J-Pop to compete with the   K-Pop and (recently) C-Pop.  It pushes the “omotenashi”, rule-based, ritualistic service concept to compete with ….um… the kind of friendliness, open-ness and natural empathy seen in small European hotels and cafes?   


As I have explained in previous posts, the Japanese haven't the faintest idea of what "omotenashi" is, or the difference between commercial service rules and non-ruled based hospitality .  They are also not really aware of the juvenility of much of manga and anime, that project suppressed anger and sexual frustration. 
Cognitive Dissonance?

Soft power initiatives tie  in with hard power programs -- the ultimate penis extenders for the perpetually adolescent. . 

As mentioned, Japan has the world's ninth most powerful military.  And it aims to move up the list to fourth -- with a full offensive capability.  It has territorial conflicts with Korea, Russia and China -- and it wants to flex its muscles. 

Back to the Future

Deja vu -- Meiji and Taisho--  war in Korea, China, and later with the US.  

But a higher Offense Quotient is usually achieved at the cost of lower Defense Quotient, while increasing risk and directly reducing the International Respect Quotient which is further debased by a higher National Bullshit Quotient ("Cool Japan").  All of which contribute to the madness.

Here is the irony.....

When Japan was Cool

In the 70's and 80's, there was much talk of the Japan Miracle.  Suddenly, Japan was in the news.  Japanese industry and technologies were winners worldwide.  Akio Morita, "It's a Sony", manga, anime such as Gibli, sushi, the martial arts, and the image of highly feminine, sensitive and sexy Japanese women caught the imagination of the world.  

Companies around the world tried to emulate Japanese business practices.  Japan was really "Cool" -- and creative --  at this time -- and it didn't need a government program to push the idea.

When Japan was Creative

The Karate Kid offered the world a concept of Japanese Karate as pure DQ -- opposed to American Karate as OQ.  Miyagi-san was a culture and he taught his American student not so much to fight but to defend himself -- drawing upon spiritual strength and Japanese (actually Okinawan) tradition.

When culture mattered

By the time, that Colin Gray got around to it, Japan was in decline.  A decade or so of economic stagnation, competition from Korea, China and Taiwan, outsourcing, and the like left the Japanese flailing.  

"Cool" Japan

No, Colin, Japanese faith in their economic model had not been undermined, even though good jobs were scarcer and the benefits of the system were fewer for ordinary young people -- which resulted in a greater immersement in virtuality -- games, manga, anime, hentai, whose content became increasingly sexualized ....

"Cool" Japanese Women

...and violent...

"Cool" Japanese Men

-- or simply insipid. 

"Cool" ...oh, whatever

Colin Gray did not see this newer evolution of Japanese popular culture . He was really looking retrospectively.  As was the New York Times when it invented "Cool Japan".  And, of course, the Abe people.

"Cool Japan" had come -  and gone. Miyagi-san was forgotten.

The Romans had bread and circuses in their decline. 

"Cool" Hats

Japan too. 

OK ... So what could the Japanese do differently?

It's not what you say, it's what you do

A lot.  

"Uncool" Japanese

Japan would be much cooler place if it actually behaved "cool".  That would mean such things as redistributing wealth and fighting privilege for a more equal society, repudiating the Japan-US agreement and getting rid of American bases in Okinawa.  It would mean less expenditure on the military -- not more. It would be mean getting rid of nuclear power altogether and developing "green infrastructure" more investment in education, the enfranchisement of women.  It's a long list -- but you get the picture. Returning to the past is not an option.

Jobs for young people

These actually cool behaviors are rational -- and that's the problem -- the public is emotional first, rational second. 

People Power

The issue is not soft power or hard power --  it is about consistent identity and values at the national level -- and the actions that express them.  If every nation sought to be a "light unto the nations" -- the world be a brighter place. 


Japan. A Light Unto the Nations

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