The Middlenuts Will Fail While The Wingnuts Prevail

Stuck in the middle, gummy bear version by furiousgeorge81 on Flickr.

Photo credit: furiousgeorge81 on Flickr.

The few people who have found and follow me on Google Buzz or Google Reader1 know that I have a fairly massive list of websites and publications I subscribe to and follow daily. It is a wonder how I manage to get anything done at all what with all the reading I have to do before I feel reasonably “in tune” with what’s going on in the world.

Sometimes I pretend to be normal. But it gets boring. So I go back to being me.

In addition to the China-related news and blogs I read, I follow quite a bit of other “stuff” as well. Readers here at china/divide know I’ve pimped out The Last Psychiatrist before, and those following me on Buzz or Reader know I dig alternative/quirky news stuff. It explains why I’ve always been an unapologetic supporter of chinaSMACK. Nothing quite humbly reminds us of our humanity and consequent human fallibility like a daily dose of what’s seriously weird or whack happening in the world. Others follow such websites for different reasons, but I don’t apologize for following or sharing stuff from websites like Sankaku Complex2.

Before you ask where this navel-gazing is going, trust me, it’s getting somewhere, though it amounts to navel-gazing as well.

Some of you know I don’t actually sit around blogging and arguing with other online commenters all day, that I actually do something that pays for the food I eat, since I don’t really subsist on words and insults alone. While my education was in law, what I’ve done has always been quite squarely involved in marketing. Some of you might find that odd, given my propensity to not give a damn about alienating people when it comes to certain topics, but it might actually make a lot of sense for some others. Either way, this is all to segue into sharing an interesting post from Seth Godin, a reasonably well-known marketing “guru”:

There is no tribe of normal

People don’t coalesce into active and committed tribes around the status quo.

The only vibrant tribes in our communities are the ones closer the edges, or those trying to make change. The center is large, but it’s not connected.

If you’re trying to build a tribe, a community or a movement, and you want it to be safe and beyond reproach at the same time, you will fail.

Heretical thoughts, delivered in a way that capture the attention of the minority–that’s the path that works.

china/divide is now nearly 1.5 months old and anyone who has read our About page or followed the trollings of our first critic3 knows that we joke about ourselves as being “middlenuts”, our self-professed alignment not to the extreme “left” or “right”, the “panda-bashers” or “panda-huggers”, but rather to the “moderates” in the “middle”, the “center”.

Pandas. Their survival is not so black & white. Ben Stiller, Tropic Thunder.

What does that mean? It means we think that there’s too much idiocy in both the Chinese media as well as the Western media, that there is too much ignorance, prejudice, and false narratives repeatedly being propagated and reinforced, contributing to a growing “divide” between a rising China and the still dominant West, between still-insecure Chinese and, well, arguably insecure Westerners. Knowing that there are actually plenty of others like “us”, who hold what we self-righteously consider more “nuanced” and  “reasonable” views on China and its relation to the world in contrast to the one-sided views so amplified by this backdrop, we figured we’d hobble together and try to amplify the voices, the understandings, even the criticisms in and from that “center”. Whether you laud us for this, or sneer in derision, we do think — perhaps incorrectly or foolishly — that’s where “most” people actually are…until they get swayed to one end or other other. We just want to remind people caught between the increasingly vocal and emotionally persuasive extremes that there is a “middle”, a “center”, that exists and is not only a fine place to be, but probably the right and even normal place to be.

And Seth here, who has regularly challenged how I see things, is telling me we’re going to fail.

Is he right?4

Can china/divide be a place where nuances breed greater understanding for a meaningful amount of people, a growing community, a “tribe”…or is it just going to flail in desperation?
  1. I’ve never actually shared either account, unlike the Twitter account I don’t use — sorry to everyone who follows me on there. I do get a warm fuzzy feeling when I get those e-mail notifications from Twitter that you added me though. []
  2. I can’t decide if that website is filled with “mature” or “immature” content. Which is why it is so great. []
  3. Or is that “criticisms of our first troll”? Either way, it went downhill from that point on. []
  4. I know I’m playing a bit loose with Seth’s words and what he’s referring to, but this should be an interesting thought-experiment nonetheless. How much traction do views from the far ends of the spectrum gain with people in general? Are they dismissed as extremes, or do they subtly influence and seep into what the average person believes about any issue? []


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  1. Kai, you’ve done it again, which underscores the reason I unchecked the “follow-up” box. You have written, might I say, a relatively benign blog that shakes no trees in Middleburg, yet I predict it will serve as fresh, raw meat for your wingnuts.

    You do make a curious point that all revolutions are won by less than 10% of the population being revolutionized; that the mass of humanity simply can’t get it together themselves and ultimately rely on the edges to lead.

    I suspect that your initial gummy bear illustration will also mislead linear wingnuts to assume that you are actually in the middle. In Eastern philosophy, the edges of your diagram should be bend, thereby forming a circle. Consequently, the east-west wingnuts form two sides of a coin with you are actually on the opposite pole of both.

    Ergo, you “benign” blog will be perceived as a sinister attack on both ends of the linear spectrum. In short, this type of thinking would have caused you much consternation during the Great Cultural Revolution.

    • So you’re saying I made “[h]eretical thoughts, delivered in a way that capture the attention of the minority”?

      Totally recognize that self-identification with the middle often leads to wingnuts seeing us on the opposite pole and that there will be much consternation for us from both ends. But is there a bit of contradiction between wingnuts assuming we’re actually in the middle and wingnuts thinking we’re on the opposite pole of both? Just checking.

  2. Hank

    Are you brave enough to post this?

    It especially applies to you.

    [Edited for attribution — Kai]

    • What a long comment. All I can say.

    • King Tubby

      Reading this set of cribbed guidelines for blog scribbling, I feel absolutely deflated and am condemming myself to Dante’s Inner Circle for a month.

      When it comes to writing styles, it is different strokes for different folks. But none of those CS strokes….

      Don’t mind others criticising my style, as long as they address the points being made.

      In a perfect blog community, people should pick-up on everybody else’s jokey cultural references, but that aint the case.

      We all have weaknesses: Kai can get overly pedantic in the thrust and parry of debate, but that is probably due to his legal background.

      Myself: a bit of an academic show-off with a weakness for musical references and over the top sarcasm.

      Other posters. Conduct your own struggle session and report in immediately.

      Baoru. I know you were talking to Kai, but here is a book referral.

      Freedom by Daniel Suarez. Flat uni dimensional characters built around a hokey gaming theme, but extremely rich in future cyberworld and environmental predictions.

    • Yes. To learn to write well, use a complicated system of rules and indexes! It is definitely what Shakespeare and Hemingway did!

      (My weaknesses: sarcasm, easily annoyed, too much love for the semicolon and the parenthetical dash, don’t actually know anything.)

    • #1 Rule of Writing on the Internet:

      Link to your sources. Don’t wholesale copy without attribution.

  3. I read Seth’s blog too! What’s your favorite book?

  4. yangrouchuan

    The middle consists primarily of closeted panda huggers who don’t want to completely alienate themselves from their western/foreign friends and contacts in badirty China.

  5. Thanks for turning me on to Sankaku Complex. Wow. I need to turn on my vpn and download some Japanese… movies.

    BTW, I started my “business” blog the same time as china/divide. I can’t write at all, so I needed this inspiration from this site.

    • LoL, it’s like chinaSMACK in a way, reporting on all the sensationalistic crap on Japan’s internet, except it crosses the line into providing purely adult sexual content whereas chinaSMACK doesn’t. It also has a more stereotypically otaku focus, whereas chinaSMACK is more mainstream. I’m still looking for a similar site for Korea.

      As for the spaceman’s writing, I think you satisfy Hank’s principles of clear writing far better than I do, which makes perfect sense if your blog is about management consulting and coaching.

      • Actually, I know my grammar is often bad. And my style is weak. Writing is like a muscle. You need to exercise it otherwise it becomes flabby. I’ve not really practiced writing for 18 years, except for business email writing.

        I don’t understand why people have problems with your style though. Your style is fun. This post seems more like a mission statement than a post about any particular topic. I don’t think its controversial at all. However, I probably miss your cultural references because they are either too obvious for me to notice, or to obscure for me to care about.

        I agree with what I skimmed from other comments here about the “middle” ground. I think its good enough to say that you (your blog anyway) will try to be wise, informed, and understanding, instead of buying into the same crap that is regurgitated on both sides of the Pacific. Middle to me has sort of a “mediocre” connotation. Like FOX news says its Fair and Balanced. Being in the middle does not mean being understanding.

  6. AndyR

    Hehe…I read over your first “critic/troll” and while he goes on ranting too long, he does point out a legitimate criticism namely: the issue of people claiming the “middle ground” without really defining what that middle ground is nor openly questioning why their take on things is necessarily more “moderate or objective” than the positions they label as “extreme”.

    Further, I would argue that if your goal is to counter the “extremes”, why would the supposition of a an imagined “middle ground” actually improve things? Actually, by categorizing and labeling a “middle” you are implicitly also supporting the notion of two extreme positions on either side and at the end of the day the whole discussion continues to devolve into a game of staking out where on the proverbial “map” of ideas you and your opponents’ arguments lie, rather than actually discussing something of real substance.

    This whole post is a great example of this, is it really necessary to continue to theorize or defend this blog and its authors’ “moderate-ness”? No, the readers will decide where each of the contributors’ positions lie according to their own individual perception of politics, so I don’t get why you guys must continue to vociferously claim the “middle ground”. Is ownership of this “categorization” really so important? To me, the more you continue to obsess with defending yourselves as “moderates” the more easily such claims are called into question because a person secure or unconcerned about their “position” doesn’t go around making sure everyone knows where their opinions lie on the political spectrum. If you really want to ignore the extremes and open up dialogue, better to just do away with the whole silly argument and destroy the map, no? Or are we doomed to continue to be tortured by this incessant game of “labeling”? What once was “extreme” vs. “extreme” has now become “extreme” vs. “moderate” vs. “extreme”, just perpetuating the same bullshit by adding one more imaginary “category” of opinion. (A category I might add that everybody wants to claim as it imagines them on a objective (and pretentious) “high ground” above the fray of “angry” people to either side.)

    And now I’ve gone on ranting too long…

    • Actually, defining the middle or explaining why one’s position is more “moderate or objective” wasn’t really his criticism. His criticism was quite simply the narcissism or arrogance of believing oneself to be more moderate or objective, that everyone, including the extremes think they’re being moderate or objective. You reiterated it at the end of your comment actually, and that’s a totally legitimate observation, but also not what made him a troll.

      Re: Paragraph 2

      Totally agree, but this post is actually about navel-gazing that map, that spectrum, the “grounds” we occupy. When we’re actually talking about viewpoints from any end we take issue with, I think we obviously discuss something of real substance and don’t merely waste our time with labeling where on the “proverbial ‘map’ of ideas’ each of us are. What do you think?

      This whole post is a great example of this, is it really necessary to continue to theorize or defend this blog and its authors’ “moderate-ness”?

      Hm, not sure the point or goal of my post was to continue theorizing or defending this blog. I did say this post was navel gazing in reaction to something Seth Godin said though.

      No, the readers will decide where each of the contributors’ positions lie according to their own individual perception of politics, so I don’t get why you guys must continue to vociferously claim the “middle ground”.

      Totally agree, and in fact was my response to our first troll/critic. I’m not sure we “continue to vociferously” claim the middle ground. At worst, I think it’s just me, and that’s just with this post. Any other posts that do it?

      Is ownership of this “categorization” really so important?

      Well, for the sake of THIS discussion, Seth Godin was making a point about what will succeed or fail based upon its “categorization” in the center or edges/ends. I don’t think I was veering away from what I set out to discuss into defending our blog.

      As you know, each of us have different things that catch our attention and inspire us to pontificate. It should be pretty clear that I tend to latch onto things of self-perception and self-identity, even in roundabout ways, because I think questioning ourselves helps us better understand ourselves and others. C’mon, I read The Last Psychiatrist!

      Are you sure we label as much as you suggest we do? I think it’s just this post, but it’s also central to what this post was about to spur exactly this kind of conversation about labeling and self-identified positioning.

  7. B-real

    Forgive me it this turns into a rant or a blah.

    In response to the question in the post, its not a matter of failure but a matter difficulty to get your point across. Eventually the opinions or theories of the middle men will become We have had our share of debates that lead to disagreements. I know I sound like a China basher most of time that’s because of the way I view the world on my personal experiences in my life. Most of my views can be widely supported by the average migrant foreigner. That’s all I am, a bird who flew into the wrong forest. I haven’t been home where I already have a nest built in over 10 years. That’s how long I have been in the air. China is a constant reminder of allot of negatives the that overshadow the positives and then it just becomes easy to point out the bad, quirky, odd, ass backward things that occur here in china .

    Not a personal attack on you Kai because I respect you but I get this feeling that you are a very optimistic person who sees the grass green most of the time. When things go wrong or someone doesn’t support your views then its an issue that needs litigated. In a way I understand that. Especially from those of us who really sound like idiots and I don’t exclude my self.

    Don’t get me wrong I love China or else I wouldn’t have chosen to stay, buy a fucking house I don’t feel safe in and marry into it against all the warnings and advice that was passed down from experienced Laowai. I thought their problems were never going to be my problems and I ignored it. Not saying they are all bad, just different and doesn’t fit my liking on how things work. Most of the time if you read my post, its always based off experience of myself and many others. In the future when these experiences get better change to a standard that I like, then most negative views would seem less biased sounding towards China.

    With that said, you may not understand where i am coming from or where I go in most of my comments.

    • Hey B-Real,

      I think you had some incomplete sentences and unfinished thoughts in your comment. That may contribute to me not understanding where you’re coming from or where you’re going! Literally! ;)

      Joking aside, I like your categorization of “pessimists” and “optimists” to explain why some people (“the pessimists”) seemingly always point out the bad, and perhaps why others (“the optimists”) feel compelled to push back against them. Not sure if you already anticipated it but, much to AndyR’s consternation, I think there’s a “middle ground” where people are “realists”. And that’s where I self-identify, rather than “optimist”.

      But as AndyR and our first troll/critic rightfully point out, “pessimists” and “optimists” alike often think they’re “realists” too. Fun, eh?

      So what other label can I identify myself as? I dunno, but I don’t think I’m preoccupied with the label when it comes to “litigating” against what I find to be unfair statements. I think I’ve proven myself time and time again that I’ll explain exactly what I think is unfair, hypocritical, or unreasonable about any statement or behavior. Also, it isn’t about “supporting” my views, it’s more about “offending” my views…which is really the same thing as why those “pessimists” who indulge in pointing out the bad do so. Something or another offended their views. This may be a bit semantic, but I think you understand the subtle difference I’m trying to point out.

      I know you’re just sharing your experiences and your gut feelings most of the time (when I read your comments). I just worry about how you do so unfairly coloring people’s perception and understanding of China and its people, leading them to fashion preconceptions that may become stumbling blocks to their actual interactions with China and actual Chinese people. We’re social creatures and we have influence over each other. I’d rather we influence each other towards giving each other the benefit of the doubt and a fair chance rather than influencing each other to see others — but not ourselves — as irrational, stupid, foolish, cheaters, etc. We’re actually all irrational, stupid, foolish, cheaters, etc. in one way or another. As AndyR said, it’s better to target the actual thing or behavior that is, rather than label that thing or behavior upon people.

      Thanks for the comment.

      • B-real

        I was at work trying to do too many things at once(loser right?). I see what you are talking about. I swear I thought I was the realist with a huge hint pessimist, but I guess not. The last thing I am is influential, but I do like to analyze and pin point certain quirks to certain cultures because I find it unique in so many ways. Like white people pointing out Obama sounds white, he doesn’t talk like the average black man. Which in a way they are fucking right. Blacks think the same way. It is rare in America to come across articulate black men let alone in politics. But in most cases since we are so racially insensitive making simple analogies like that is offensive not to the offended but to the audience. Knowing in their mind its too hard to compel.

        But I read ya loud and clear i’ll try and tone it down.

  8. hm

    I think people like to be on the edges because the middle doesn’t provide them anything to believe in. It doesn’t make things move and doesn’t put things into action. There’s too much weighing of the pros and cons that might just make people apathetic.

    It’s like asking, “Is China good or bad?”
    Some will say, “it’s bad”, some will say “it’s good” and others will say, “well, it has its good and bad.”
    The last answer doesn’t answer the question.

  9. lolz

    Just wondering, do you like weirdasiannews and cracked as well?

    • Love Cracked (they have some way funny guys) every time I run into them, but never subscribed. Tried a few days ago but realized they don’t post their full feed, only titles, so I unsubscribed. Not too impressed with WAN. They’re kinda slow. Not very hard hitting. But then again, I haven’t given them much of a chance…but haven’t felt compelled to…so…