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In whose hands are the great accomplishments of the West more secure?

Wednesday, February 15, 2017 15:47
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David Goldman compares two transgressives: Milo Yiannopolus and Yuja Wang.

China well might overwhelm the West, not by brute force and mass production and discipline, but spiritually and intellectually. If China wanted to lull the West into complacency in preparation for world conquest, it could do no better than to perpetuate the myth that the Chinese are bright, disciplined and hard-working, but characteristically uncreative, clever at stealing the intellectual property of others but unable to invent anything new on their own. If you believe this, you have no idea what is about to hit you.

On average, Chinese may be less inclined to innovate than Americans—the culture is inherently more conformist—but that says nothing about their capacity to innovate. The present generation of Chinese entrepreneurs includes many brilliant innovators, some of whom I came to know as a partner in a Hong Kong investment banking boutique. But there are also Chinese who have seen through to the most recondite secrets of Western culture and mastered them in a way that no Westerner has. The Beautiful is not the Good. Beethoven’s greatest piano sonata has a nasty side.

To Westerners who have never listened carefully to a Beethoven sonata, much less performed one, this may sound overwrought, if not deranged. It is inadequately understood in the West that mathematics and physics emerged in partnership with music. I have a contribution or two myself to the scholarly literature on the subject. China’s imperial system has its weaknesses, and China may misplay the historic opportunity that it now encounters. But if China fails, it will not be for lack of exceptional minds.

East Asia values discipline, concentration, long years of practice and utter mastery; with an exceptional head start and rare talent, Yuja Wang has earned the imperial right to conjure up Beethoven as a kindred spirit and transgress in his giant footsteps. The West values offhandedness, improvisation, luck and self-made celebrity, the qualities that make Milos Yiannopoulos a figure of admiration for the Right and an object of obloquy for the Left. In whose hands are the great accomplishments of the West more secure?

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