Psychological projection and the western mind

There is an interesting phenomenon known to psychologists as projection. I quote at length from wiki’s entry on the topic.

Psychological projection was first conceptualized by Sigmund Freud as a defence mechanism in which a person unconsciously rejects his or her own unacceptable attributes by ascribing them to objects or persons in the outside world instead. Thus, projection involves projecting[clarification needed negative qualities onto others, and is a common psychological process.[1][2] Theoretically, projection and the related projective identification reduces anxiety by allowing the unconscious expression of the unwanted unconscious impulses or desires through displacement.[3]

According to Sigmund Freud, “projection” is a psychological defence mechanism whereby one “projects” undesirable or unacceptable thoughts, motivations, desires, and feelings onto someone else. “Emotions or excitations which the ego tries to ward off are ‘split out‘ and then felt as being outside the ego… perceived in another person”, wrote Otto Fenichel.[6] It is a common process, something normal people do.[1]

In one example of the process, a person might have thoughts of infidelity with respect to a spouse or other partner. Instead of dealing with these undesirable thoughts consciously, the subject unconsciously sees these feelings as belonging to the other person, and begins to think that “the other” has thoughts of infidelity and may be having an affair. In this way, the subject may obtain “acquittal by his conscience – if he projects his own impulses to faithlessness on to the partner to whom he owes faith”, wrote Freud.[8] In this sense, projection is related to denial, a more primitive defence mechanism than projection, allowing a person to protect the conscious mind from a feeling that is otherwise threatening.

Projection can also be established as an attempt to obtain or justifying certain actions that would normally be found unacceptable.[citation needed] This often means projecting false accusations, information, etc., onto an individual for the sole purpose of maintaining a self-created illusion.[citation needed One of the many problems with this process comes from the object relations theory which suggests that people relate to others and situations in their adult lives as shaped by family experiences during infancy. In this view, “something dangerous that is felt inside can be moved outside – a process of ‘projection’ ” – and the result is “the projector may become somewhat depleted and rendered limp in character, as he loses part of his personality”, according to Melanie Klein.[9]

Compartmentalizationsplitting, and projection are seen as ways that a fragile ego attempts to maintain the illusion that it is completely in control at all times, something normal people also do. While engaged in projection, individuals can be unable to access alternative memories, intentions, and experiences, even about their own nature in dissociation, as in Dissociative identity disorder.[10]

The historian and librarian Peter Gay describes projection as “the operation of expelling feelings or wishes the individual finds wholly unacceptable—too shameful, too obscene, too dangerous—by attributing them to another.”[11]


It’s a fairly common phenomenon. For example, male homophobes have a tendency to have homoerotic fantasies and the more homosexual their inner desires the more they are bigoted towards homosexuals. Many racists also like looking at interracial porn.

Now I will argue that this phenomenon underlies much of how the west views China and the Chinese people.  In my last article, I argued that the Chinese people and China as whole by implication has many foibles which it must correct to be truly civilized but in the most morally relevant aspects, the west is guilty of far worse. The west projects its own weaknesses, its own crimes and shame upon China. Shame and guilt, much like misery loves company and where company cannot be found, they must be invented.

Much of the discourse about China in the west is framed in terms of the conceptual framework the west knows, at some deep level, it is itself guilty. The narrative on Tibet, China’s past and present relationships with its neighbors, with the USA, and Africa, are framed in the discourse of genocide, invasion, occupation, aggression, greed, and overall oppression. There is a remarkable article on this published by Andre Vltchek called “The Racist Irrational Fear of China” which everyone should read. Vltchek goes further than I can about all the crimes of the west in recent memory and how the Chinese have not had any such history while the west continues to fan the scaremongering against the Middle Kingdom rightfully describing the motive as a continuation of the tradition of the Yellowperil. However, racist motives aside, I believe that projection is just as much a motive for all the west’s lies.

In past articles, I have spoken about all the effort, money and attention the west spends manufacturing and perpetuating self-indulgent hallucinations such as this Hollywood Holocaust. While such racist propagandists were defaming China and the Chinese people for the genocide of 1.2 million imaginary Tibetans, those same propagandists were also promoting wars around the globe, one of which ended with the deaths of nearly 1.5 million flesh and blood Iraqis.  Moreover, almost all of the genocides that have ever occurred (with rare exceptions such as thisthis and this), have occurred with a western aggressor (and often a nonwestern victim).

The US alone, in a busy afternoon, invades and occupies more countries than China has in its entire history. Over the last 50 years, the US has attacked several dozens of countries, some of them multiple times, bombing them into oblivion and moreover, undermining their political, social, economic development after invasion through covert (and less than covert) actions. One can only contrast this with China. After tracking modern military conflicts around the globe, the political scientist, Joshua Goldstein has pointed out that “China has been hands down the most peaceful great power of its time. For all the recent concern about a newly assertive Chinese navy in disputed international waters, China’s military hasn’t fired a single shot in battle in 25 years.” Yet, when you look at American and western media you’ll see fears of world conflicts directed at China’s rising power. China’s relations with its neighbors are almost wholly viewed through the prism of a militarily aggressive China against a weaker, bullied neighbor. The most brazen and outrageous lies are constantly told by the most trusted sources as if they were accepted facts, without so much as a liar’s blink. For one recent example, see this piece in The Atlantic about the possibility of conflict between China and India. The author says “In late October 1962, when the Western world was consumed with the Cuban Missile Crisis, China’s People’s Liberation Army assaulted an India military position in the disputed territory of Arunachal Pradesh, routing the poorly-trained Indian forces.” China is viewed as aggressor always even when it was actually the victim of aggression. This kind of turning history on its head is ubiquitous in the effort to demonize China. Despite having more land borders than any country in the world, China has successfully resolved almost all of them. Many territorial conflicts are resolved only after military conflict but China has been an exception in that most of its border conflicts have been peacefully resolved through negotiation and diplomacy. Where there has not been peaceful resolution, it is almost always because the other party refuse to negotiate (such as the case with the territorial conflict with Japan which until very recently they didn’t even acknowledge that there was a dispute despite the fact that the territory under question had been classified as disputed by the international community).

Whereas, the west’s history is replete with colonialism, religious, political oppression, fascism, genocide, apartheid, slavery, wars of aggression and just about every evil ever known to man, the Chinese empire has historically been relatively benign in comparison. But it is these very frameworks that are used to frame the discourse on China today. China, with its infinite inscrutability, is the perfect backdrop to project the west’s own crimes.

Take another example. Mao is not simply viewed as an incorrigibly incompetent and (maybe even willfully) ignorant leader but as a mass murderer the likes of Hitler and Stalin. He is accused of murdering 40-60 million [sic] Chinese by the west rather than the less than sensationalistic historical reality which is that his well-intentioned but ultimately bad decisions led to many deaths. Why choose the 40-60 million numbers so often bandied about? Maybe because they’re one-up from Hitler’s or Stalin’s numbers? While despicably and perhaps unforgivably ignorant and incompetent, Mao was no Hitler or Stalin in reality, but only in the projected fantasies of a collective psyche that displaces real crimes unto imaginary perpetrators as a “psychological defense mechanism” to protect a “fragile ego” in order to “maintain the illusion that it is completely in control at all times.”

Now the logical implication of conflating the kind of crimes Mao is guilty of with those of Hitler’s and Stalin’s is that we are all of us (at least for those of us who live in developed countries and perhaps even most people who live in developing countries) guilty of crimes equivalent to mass murder (see the philosophical problem of letting die to see what I mean). Thus one needs to take into account intentions to make moral sense of the world (which isn’t a surprise as the law and moral common sense would tell you).

China’s relationship with Africa is also framed in the language of colonialism, exploitation and resource extraction, crimes which the west has always and continues to perpetrate on that continent. While not always rosy, China’s relationship with Africa has been far more just than the west even when comparing in contemporary times. China’s foreign policy constantly sensationalized in the mainstream western media as supportive of dictatorships around the world and thus undermining human rights while the mainstream western press almost never criticizes the US’s history of overthrowing democratic regimes then installing dictatorships in their place and its relationship with an apartheid regime so vicious it uses the strategy of incinerating children with white phosphorous and forced starvation as a matter of foreign policy.

Domestic policies in China are constantly viewed with scorn and contempt. It is a police state we are told by the mother of all police states. While the US now has more prisoners (both overall and per capita) than any country in the world and far more than China, you’ll rarely see criticisms of US domestic policies in mainstream media.  One can go to prison, be strip searched multiple times, for (alleged) “crimes” such as not paying parking tickets. People are often sentenced to long prison terms for speech and thought crimes (see Glenn Greenwald’s blog for a listing) and citizens can even be “extra legally” assassinated for nothing ostensibly more than internet postings. People are tortured such as government whistle-blower Bradley Manning for releasing information that is deemed embarrassing to the government.

While in my last post, I described many vices of the Chinese people, there are also some virtues among them too; this I do not deny. To wit, a willingness to accept and a general tolerance of self-criticism as demonstrated by many of the comments (there are other virtues such as Chinese people’s optimism and general cheeriness for life among other things). While I believe that Freud’s quote, “In the depths of my heart I can’t help being convinced that my dear fellow-men, with a few exceptions, are worthless.” has a lot of truth, it is not to say that all worthless men are equally worthless. Some are more so than others. Even misanthropes like me can see that not all humanity bare equal worthlessness. The west must face up to a devastating reality: that they have, continue to, and will in the foreseeable future perpetrate the greatest crimes in human history. But it is ironic that it will be my last post that has received all the attention for it calls upon self-reflection and criticism among Chinese while posts like this calling for the same but among westerners will go relatively unnoticed at best to being met with blind derision and hostility at worst. That surely says more about the lack of virtues of the west compared to the Chinese.

Many in the west like to think of their own societies as democracies. Yet in a democracy, as an a priori implication, it is the people who are ultimately responsible for the actions of their government, good or bad. Yet when their government does massive wrongs upon the world and even on their own populations, said populations usually deny any responsibility. Whence the conflict? Sure, many of the evil actions are the result of actions by evil men in high levels of government but who voted these evil men into office? Who initially almost always seem to support their wicked ways and whose tax dollars fuel them? Whose rampant consumerism fuels a corprorate-government machine? Who doesn’t criticize them but instead are self-satisfied with criticizing others even inventing slanderous accusations along the way? Fool you once, shame on them. Fool you twice, shame on you. Fool you a thousand times and you are hardly better than your government. I ended my last post with an appeal to look in the proverbial mirror for the Chinese people and correct certain vices. Will the west ever look into such a mirror and see that the monster in front is not another but their own reflection?


You must be logged in to post a comment.

%d bloggers like this: