27 September 2021

Leg dich nicht mit dem Bären an

A major victory for renters in Berlin today:
Berliners have backed one of Europe’s most radical responses to gentrification: seizing property from so-called mega landlords. In a referendum timed to coincide with Germany’s general election on Sunday, locals supported expropriation by 56% to 39%.

“It’s nearly impossible to describe this feeling,” Kalle Kunkel, an activist for Berlin’s Expropriate Deutsche Wohnen campaign, told Euronews. “For many of us, it feels like the end of a four-year marathon. Or at the very least, we’ve reached a major high point.”

The campaign is named after Deutsche Wohnen, a private landlord that held more than 110,000 apartments in Berlin.

Kunkel sees the referendum victory as the culmination of years of campaigning against skyrocketing housing and rental prices. The vote could see private landlords that hold more than 3,000 units having them expropriated and folded into the city’s affordable housing stock. This would socialise more than 240,000 apartments.

“It was an incredibly clear victory,” Kunkel added. “A majority of Berliners in all but two (of 12) districts supported the initiative. Which means the whole city said: ‘We don’t want speculators to have a say in our housing’. And that’s a decision that political leaders simply can’t ignore.”
Unfortunately, it looks like Berliners’ just and democratic demands may be quashed by a constitutional court. But the fact that this referendum passed, primarily with the support of The Left party and a coalition of mostly younger renters in Berlin, shows that voters are increasingly convinced that deep-reaching systemic change is necessary to correct course. It is a big step toward a more just order.

Based and redpilled: China’s war on decadence

The Communist Party of China has been busy lately, to judge from the headlines of late.

Late last year, they not only firmly rapped the knuckles of Alibaba multibillionaire Jack Ma over his complaints about regulatory oversight, they broke up Ant Group and forced its holdings and consumer credit operations to incorporate separately.

This broadened into a more comprehensive crackdown on big megacorporate malfeasance, particularly online businesses and social media groups. Alibaba was fined $2.8 billion by the Chinese government, and thirty-four ecommerce and social media corporations were called to the carpet and slapped with heavy fines for violating Chinese antitrust law: including big names like Tencent, Baidu and Meituan. Private equity firms, online insurance companies and stock traders have also not escaped the wrath of regulators either.

While here in the United States renters are still struggling with things like evictions, expropriation and sexual abuse at the hands of their landlords for failing to meet rent during the coronavirus, China has been busy heavily curbing the power of landlords and preventing such abuses from taking place. Beijing instituted a law recently forbidding landlords from demanding or retaining excessive deposits, and forcing online property vendors in Beijing to comply with the same guidelines as traditional landlords.

Workers’ rights and wage rises have been a major focus of China’s policy recently as well. Xi Jinping promised earlier this year that the state would step up its defence of ‘key groups including college graduates and migrant workers, and the protection of the legitimate interests of truck drivers, couriers and food delivery riders’. He seems to have delivered on this promise, at least partially: express delivery companies have instituted a fee change at the government’s behest, specifically to benefit their couriers. China has also instituted several strong regulations on the ‘gig economy’ in order to prevent predatory collusion, ensure data security, control prices and prevent abuse of providers. The most recent move by the Chinese government on the economic front has been to institute a systemic ban on cryptocurrency trading and mining, which distort markets in actual currency, cause systemic risks to the economy and degrade the environment.

In the interest of getting the rich to comply with tax laws, China has also blacklisted several high-profile celebrities and models who were either implicated in the Kris Wu statutory rape scandal, using their privileged positions to evade taxes (like Fan Bingbing, Zhao Wei and Zheng Shuang), or who promote far-right political positions (like Zhang Zhehan and Lin Xinru).

There has been an increasing effort, as well, to promote the welfare of children and the desirability of having families. This has taken several forms. Firstly, China has been instituting structural reforms to its educational sector. In order to curb unhealthy trends in housing speculation and cutthroat competition for placement in high-end state schools, the Chinese government is attempting to delink school placement from place-of-residence. It has also introduced stringent regulations on private tutoring programmes, forcing them to register as not-for-profit companies by the end of the year, causing some of them to go out of business.

The government is also trying to promote children’s vision and emotional health. One official newspaper referred to online gaming as a form of ‘spiritual opium’ – a rather dire charge for some rather obvious historical reasons. Shortly afterward, the government instituted some fairly reasonable limits on the amount of time and money that minors can spend on online games: 90 minutes a day on weekdays; 3 hours a day on weekends and holidays; none after 10 PM; and no more than $57 a month per user on digital content, DLCs and paid add-ons. Chinese parents are, on the whole, delighted. Additionally, China is promoting additional physical education for young boys in order to get them outside and promote bodily health. On Twitter, these initiatives are called the ‘Touch Grass Campaign’.

China has also been cracking down hard on celebrity worship and idol-based fan culture. After videos surfaced of idol fans dumping massive amounts of milk in order to meet promotional goals for their preferred candidates on a reality show on iQIYI, government pressure forced iQIYI to cancel the show and issue an apology. The government has also shut down several websites and fan groups on social media, including several related to K-pop idols, and put the kibosh on online popularity rankings.

Under particular fire are xiao xianrou (slender and pale young male models catering to a female gaze) and niangpao (male idols who use lipstick and eyeliner, wear earrings and sexually-suggestive clothing, and use effeminate language and mannerisms). Three years ago, Xinhua published a jeremiad against such ‘sissies’, for degrading the culture by promoting ‘vulgar taste’ and a ‘deformed æsthetic’. The government followed up earlier this month by publishing an eight-point guideline for broadcast media that curtail such performances and promote a healthier masculinity and healthier cultural output in general:
  1. Boycott illegal or immoral personnel. When selecting entertainers and guests, radio, television and internet platforms should not employ people who have an incorrect political stance, break laws and regulations, or speak or behave against public order and morals.
  2. Boycott “traffic only” standards. Idol selection shows cannot be shown, as well as shows starring the children of celebrities. Shows should strictly control voting, cannot induce and encourage fans to shop or buy membership in order to vote for their idols.
  3. Boycott an overly entertaining trend, promote traditional culture, establish a correct beauty standard, boycott “sissy idols”, boycotting daunting wealth, gossip or vulgar internet celebrities.
  4. Boycott high pay in the entertainment industry. Strictly regulate payment for guests, encourage celebrities to participate in charity shows, punish fake contracts and tax evasion.
  5. Regulate showbiz staff. Enforce licensing television hosts, provide professional and moral training. Entertainers should not use their profession and fame to gain profit.
  6. Promote professional commentary in the entertainment industry, insist on correct political direction and values, criticise the fake, ugly and evil values.
  7. Entertainment associations should provide more training and establish mechanisms for industry regulation, as well as criticise bad examples.
  8. Regulators need to be more accountable, listen to the people and respond to their concerns, fill public space with positive and mainstream shows.
Perhaps the most promising development of the lot, though, is that China’s leadership is finally wising up to the threat of transhumanism and the gradual instrumental technologisation of ‘human capital’. Recent guidelines on data use are aimed at combatting the use of algorithms in tracking consumer data, protecting privacy, protecting minors and protecting workers from excessive oversight managed by computers. If they are serious about tackling this in a systemic way, then this is something absolutely to be welcomed, particularly since China had previously been in the forefront of exploring the uses of AI in surveillance. Here’s hoping that China is willing to subordinate the Algorithm to the merely-human across the board, not merely in the private sector.

So what does this all amount to?

My understanding of it so far, is that these economically leftist measures on behalf of workers and families, combined with the more conservative cultural measures meant to bolster traditional masculinity, stave off the transhumanist ‘alchemy’ and promote positive cultural output, are both part-and-parcel of a broader war against decadence in China. These outward-facing, public initiatives appear to follow naturally from the earlier work of Xi Jinping’s government to combat corruption and waste within the government specifically. They also seem to be part-and-parcel with Xi’s fondness for the Classics, and make a certain degree of intuitive sense given his own family’s harrowing experiences and suffering during the Cultural Revolution. Speaking personally, I have my doubts about how some of this broad volley of initiatives can succeed, but the aims seem to be correct and laudable ones.