Our Other Strategic Resources
Keeping cultural exports out of authoritarian hands
We increasingly and rightly restrict the export of strategically important resources (especially chips, fabs, and networking equipment) to China in the name of national security. We’re in a technological arms race and have appropriately determined that our enemies shouldn’t avail themselves of the fruits of our liberal democracy in their quest to undermine it.
But the most important export from the US isn't chips or technical knowledge. It’s culture and cultural products.
Allowing those exports to flow to China (and other authoritarian regimes) is destructive in two ways:
it compromises our integrity and puts criticism off bounds. US companies and high profile people are afraid to be critical of China’s record on human rights, giving the Chinese Communist Party de facto censorship powers in the US. American media increasingly caters to and is cowed by the demands of the CCP, effectively imposing totalitarian values globally.
it subsidizes the personal costs of living under authoritarian rule and helps normalize it. The personal toll of authoritarianism is incalculable but imported cultural products give the outward appearance of coequal participation with global liberalism.
Authoritarian countries should be pariahs and being cut off from the greatest cultural products in the world should be the cost of authoritarianism. Instead, we’re making it more tolerable to live under the thumb of the CCP by letting subjugated people watch Marvel movies and the NBA like nothing is wrong.
My goal isn’t to punish the individuals but to stop American media from being co-opted as a tool of the CCP and used to placate people.
The idea that global trade and commerce and contact with global culture would liberalize China was wrong. Instead of American cultural exports giving us “soft power” to help cultivate our values in authoritarian countries, they’ve made us beholden to the whims of the authoritarians.
The lure of the Chinese market is too great for individual companies to resist. But corporate greed can’t be allowed to undermine US sovereignty and values. The choice was “easy” in Russia because the market is so small. China is different and will require government intervention.
Culture and art are necessarily liberal endeavors that thrive in democracy; liberal democracy should be the price of enjoying them.
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