Friday, April 14, 2023

#104 / Mind Models


I enjoyed reading the "Real-Life Spy Story" described in two different articles in The New York Times. One article, by Yudhijit Bhattacharjee, was titled, "A Daring Ruse That Exposed China's Campaign To Steal American Secrets." That article ran in the March 7, 2023, edition. Another article, which I read in the hard-copy edition of The Times on Sunday, March 12, 2023, was a follow-up article by David Leonhardt. That second article had the "Real-Life Spy Story" title. 
The two stories described efforts by the Chinese government to flatter an engineer at G.E. Aviation in Cincinnati into disgorging trade secrets. The engineer had moved to the United States from China in 2003, to undertake graduate studies in structural engineering. After earning his Ph.D. in 2007, the engineer went to work for G.E., first at the company’s research facility in Niskayuna, N.Y., and then at G.E. Aviation. An invitation to make a presentation in China was the way that the Chinese government sought to compromise the engineer. Ultimately, the engineer was turned into a kind of "double agent" by the United States, helping to uncover Chinese intelligence efforts. 

Another article in The Times, from the Sunday, March 12th edition, focused on a completely different topic, and documented how the Chinese government had had recently succeeded in brokering a diplomatic "deal" between Saudi Arabia and Iran. That article made clear the intense competition that exists, currently, between the United States and China:

“There is no way around it — this is a big deal,” said Amy Hawthorne, deputy director for research at the Project on Middle East Democracy, a nonprofit group in Washington. “Yes, the United States could not have brokered such a deal right now with Iran specifically, since we have no relations. But in a larger sense, China’s prestigious accomplishment vaults it into a new league diplomatically and outshines anything the U.S. has been able to achieve in the region since Biden came to office.”

It struck me, reading these two different discussions of the rivalry between China and the United States, that our government - and the Chinese government, too, of course - have created a "mind model" that presupposes that "competition," not "cooperation," is how our relationship with China should be (or perhaps I should say, "must be") understood. 
We use such "mind models," models literally created in our minds, to help us define the "reality" of the world in which we most immediately operate. Ultimately, of course, we live in the World of Nature, and the reality of that world is quite different. What we will accept as "real," in the Natural World, is defined by scientific exploration, and by laws, or rules, that tell us exactly what must and will happen. 
In the world in which we most immediately live, in what I like to call the "political world," the rules that govern our conduct are rules that we "make up." There is no inevitability in any of them, and that fact is directly related to the fact that the "reality" of this "political world" is not based on what must and inevitably will happen. Our entire "political world" is based on a "mind model" that we can, in fact, change. We actually get get to choose the "mind model" that we ultimately decide is our best description of the "political world" that we most immediately inhabit - or that we want to inhabit.
The New York Times, rather amazingly, I thought, has given us a nice example of what I am talking about. Recently, The Times has decided to urge us to consider a new "mind model" to be used in understanding the "reality" of our relationship to China. On March 11, 2023, The Times Editorial Board said this:

America’s increasingly confrontational posture toward China is a significant shift in U.S. foreign policy that warrants greater scrutiny and debate.
"Competition" between the United States and China - as the ultimate reality of how we relate to China, whether  in terms of diplomatic activities, or industrial policy, or in any other way - is not, The Times is telling us, "inevitable." 

The "competition" and "confrontation" model is one "mind model." We could seek to formulate a different one, which would then lead to different conduct. The Times asks its readers, "Who Benefits From Confrontation With China?"
Not a bad question! Military suppliers do. Who else?
I think The Times is on to something. We need a different "mind model" of the world in which we live. Maybe, we ought to be trying for a "mind model" that might better reflect a world in which we want to live!
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