ASEAN Centrality at Risk


October 30, 2016

ASEAN Centrality at Risk as Member States succumb to China’s Diplomacy

by Amb Dennis Ignatius

http://www.freemalaysiatoday.com

Image result for China and ASEAN--A New Partnership

ASEAN is China’s New Strategic Partner in Economic Development

At the height of the Cultural Revolution, “The East is Red,” became the de facto national anthem of the People’s Republic of China. The composer, reportedly a farmer from Shaanxi province, had, of course, no way of knowing that his song was in fact a harbinger of things to come.

Some fifty something years later, “The East is Red” is more than an old song; it has become a disquieting political and economic reality.hina has certainly come a long way from the days of the Cultural Revolution.

Today, it is a massive economic and political behemoth with equally massive regional and global ambitions. Its new leaders have long since abandoned the veneer of modesty and respect for diplomatic niceties it adopted when it was seeking to gain acceptance in the region.

China’s new rulers are now focused on the single-minded pursuit of regional hegemony as the first step in their quest for global supremacy.

A giant economic footprint

Nothing better illustrates China’s ambitions than its frenzied regional investment strategy. When viewed as a whole, the investment projects scattered across the region paint a picture of a country determined to use its wealth and economic influence to decisively dominate the region.

Consider, for example, the ambitious “One Belt, One Road” or New Silk Road initiative which, among other goals, aims to position China as the hub of the entire region.

Image result for “One Belt, One Road” Initiative

Stripped of all the rhubarb, it’s really a neo-mercantilist strategy of opening markets for China’s excess industrial capacity, making the yuan Asia’s international currency of choice, and cementing China’s economic dominance of the region.

In pursuit of its ambitions, Chinese state corporations are currently engaged in a staggering array of infrastructure projects, especially rail projects, in Myanmar, Laos, Cambodia, Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia.

China is also building a deep sea port in Myanmar which will give it direct access to the Indian Ocean. The project involves the construction of an oil pipeline as well that will allow Middle East crude to be offloaded in Myanmar and then transported overland to China, bypassing the Straits of Malacca. A third of all Myanmar’s foreign investments already come from China.

In Laos, Chinese investments already exceed USD31 billion, a sum larger than the country’s GDP. China also built, financed and launched Laos’s only communications satellite. In neighbouring Cambodia, Chinese companies completely dominate the country’s special economic zone.

Image result for Singapore and China

Singapore, for its part, plays host to more than 7500 Chinese companies; its status as a banking and financial centre in Southeast Asia is increasingly dependent on China’s regional economic plans.

In Indonesia, China may already be the largest foreign investor if investments through subsidiaries based in other countries are taken into account. Indonesia’s Investment Coordinating Board expects to secure Chinese investments worth USD30 billion in 2016, doubling to USD60 billion the following year.

Bandar Malaysia – China’s new regional capital

Image result for Bandar Malaysia – China’s new regional capital

Bandar Malaysia Project

Malaysia, vulnerable, exposed and ripe for exploitation as a consequence of the massive 1MDB scandal, is set to be the jewel in the crown of China’s ambitious regional agenda. In exchange for a Chinese bailout, significant national assets and lucrative contracts are being handed over to China in a series of murky deals.

China Railway has been awarded both the RM7.13 billion (USD1.71b) Gemas-Johor Baru electrified double-tracking rail project and the RM55 billion (USD13.2b) East Coast Railway project and is a shoo-in for the RM60 billion (USD14.4b) Kuala Lumpur-Singapore High Speed Railway project as well.

And this comes after China was awarded the RM43 billion (USD10b) Malacca Gateway Project (deep-sea port and ocean park) and the main contract for the first package of the second Penang Bridge project (the longest bridge in Southeast Asia).

One has to wonder whether someone somewhere is dreaming up these projects just for China’s benefit? Is there some secret agreement giving China a lock on all mega-infrastructure projects in Malaysia?

The biggest catch of all, however, is expected to be the Bandar Malaysia project, a colossal monument to avarice and arrogance. With an expected gross development value of RM160 billion (USD38.36b), it will feature the world’s largest underground city, shopping malls, indoor theme parks, a financial centre as well as the RM8.3 billion (USD1.9b) regional headquarters of China Railway.

When completed, it will turn the Malaysian capital into the most impressive Chinese railway station along the so-called Iron Silk Route linking Beijing with Singapore.

Malaysians haven’t as yet woken up to the monstrosity that is being foisted upon them.Bandar Malaysia, which will cost almost four times the reported cost of Putrajaya, the nation’s administrative capital, will distort the property market, add to the city’s already intolerable traffic congestion, reduce the city’s livability and see the introduction of thousands of PRC workers, contractors and staff.

No doubt much of the residential and office space at Bandar Malaysia will also be taken up by PRC nationals, already a growing presence in the local property market.

All in all, it is an outrageous crony project designed to benefit cronies, both local and foreign, at the expense of ordinary Malaysians. It serves China’s interest far more than it serves Malaysia’s.

And it would be naïve to believe that such massive investments will not translate into significant political and economic control especially given the almost total lack of transparency on most of these projects. At this rate, Malaysia may well find itself reduced to satrapy status within the emerging Chinese order with Bandar Malaysia the new Chinese regional capital.

ASEAN’s dependence on trade with China

Image result for asean and china economic cooperation

China also dominates regional trade; it has been ASEAN’s largest trading partner for the last seven consecutive years with trade growing at an annual rate of 18.5 percent. Last year China-ASEAN trade was valued at USD472 billion. It is expected to reach USD1 trillion by 2020. Bilaterally, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, Myanmar, Singapore, Vietnam and Laos all count China as their largest trading partner.

Again, such a commanding economic position coupled with critical control of national infrastructure assets across the region by state companies of a single nation will undoubtedly translate into unparalleled influence, power and control.

ASEAN nations are already so dependent upon China for their economic prosperity that they have no wriggle room left on most issues affecting China. The same can be said of many of the region’s corporations and business enterprises. Even the region’s academic institutions and think tanks have largely shied away from critical commentary on China for fear of being locked out of the web of lucrative Chinese-funded academic institutions, exchanges, grants and conferences.

Finding common cause with autocrats and corrupt politicians

China’s ascendency has also been facilitated by the rise of illiberal leaders in the region who depend upon China for support and cover in the face of international opprobrium and domestic unpopularity.

Beijing has, for example, long supported the military junta in Myanmar while securing for itself privileged economic access. It is also the Thai junta’s staunchest ally while Malaysia’s leader, faced with a scandal that is being investigated by several international jurisdictions for corruption and money laundering, is regularly feted in Beijing as a special friend.

Indeed, Najib is set to make yet another visit to Beijing next week, his sixth since becoming Prime Minister in 2009. The visit will decisively shift Malaysia into China’s orbit.

Unsurprisingly, as well, Beijing has also endorsed President Rodrigo Duterte’s murderous campaign against drug pushers at a time when he is facing international condemnation for his actions.

ASEAN effectively neutralized

Taken together, the growing economic and political reliance on China has also given China the upper hand on the South China Sea file.

Malaysia, for example, is so fearful of offending China that it regularly goes out of its way to play down persistent Chinese incursions into its waters and the harassment of Malaysian fishermen. While the Chinese aggressively press their claims, Malaysia dithers and pretends that its “special relationship” with China will keep it safe from Chinese ambitions.

The Philippines, having won a landmark victory at the Hague, now appears to have recklessly squandered its advantage for the better relations with Beijing (and perhaps to foolishly spite the Americans).

Beijing’s terms for a restoration of relations with Manila, however, might prove costly to the Philippines.

In a Xinhua report issued on the eve of Duterte’s recent visit to China, it was stated in no uncertain terms what Duterte would need to do to regain Beijing’s favour: abandon “the farcical South China Sea arbitration case brought by Duterte’s predecessor against China… avoid his predecessor’s idiosyncrasies of colluding with outside meddlers [read the US] and making unnecessary provocations [read challenging China’s claims].”

It went on to add that the Philippines must accept dialogue and negotiations over confrontation, conveniently overlooking the fact that it is China who is the aggressor, not the Philippines.

The implications are clear enough both for the Philippines and other Southeast Asian nations: good relations with China must be premised upon an acceptance of Beijing’s maritime claims, an end to close military cooperation with the US and a commitment to engage in meaningless and open- ended dialogue that allows China to pretend that it is a responsible international actor.

ASEAN, which was formed to leverage its strength as a group when dealing with bigger powers, is now proving itself to be hopelessly dysfunctional in dealing with China.

Insisting that territorial disputes must be settled bilaterally (where it is able to exploit its asymmetrical advantage to the fullest), China, with the help of its proxies, Cambodia and Laos, successfully stymied ASEAN efforts to take a firm stand on the issue.

Astonishingly, the Philippines Foreign Secretary called the Vientiane debacle “a victory for ASEAN.” If that was victory, what does defeat look like?

In any case, only the most gullible will believe that China is really interested in negotiations, bilateral or otherwise; it is simply buying time while it changes the facts on the ground and militarizes its positions in the South China Sea.

By keeping silent, waffling and pretending that somehow China is open to negotiations, ASEAN is simply acquiescing in a Chinese takeover of the entire South China Sea. It is also proving the hawks in Beijing right that strong-arm tactics work, that ASEAN does not have the courage to stand up to Beijing.

Witness also the timorous silence of ASEAN leaders with regard to the US policy of vigorously challenging China’s threats to impose exclusion zones in the South China Sea. Though ASEAN leaders are too spineless to admit it, the US navy is now all that stands in the way of de facto Chinese control of the South China Sea.

Instead of backstabbing the only country that can help keep the region open and free, as President Duterte of the Philippines appears to be doing, ASEAN leaders should augment US efforts by insisting that China demonstrate its own sincerity by committing to a meaningful code of conduct, respecting the recent Hague ruling, and ceasing the militarization of disputed islands.

But, of course, China has so thoroughly neutered ASEAN that such a course of action is now unthinkable.

The triumph of the Middle Kingdom

More than forty years ago, Southeast Asian leaders had a sense of foreboding about China. Even as they moved to normalize relations with China, they knew that there was going to be nothing normal about dealing with China. Nevertheless, they had hoped that they could foster close economic relations with China without being overwhelmed by it. They also felt confident that they could contain Chinese ambitions within a regional balance of power framework.

Clearly they underestimated the Middle Kingdom and the perfidy of their own successors.

Overdependence on China for investments and trade and the treachery of corrupt politicians have now rendered ASEAN completely vulnerable to Chinese hegemony.

The East is Red! ASEAN might as well hang its logo on the Chinese flag to reflect this new reality.

Dennis Ignatius is a 36-year veteran of the Malaysian Foreign Service and has served in London, Beijing and Washington besides serving as High Commissioner for Malaysia to Canada from 2001 to June 2008.

The Sound of Santo and Johnny for this Diwali Weekend


October 29, 2016

The Sound of Santo and Johnny for this Diwali Weekend

Let us enjoy the music of Santo and Johnny. Relax before the Clinton-Trump Presidential race culminates on November 8. Who will be the next POTUS?. Some say America will have its first Madam President and Commander-in Chief. Others who seek change want a Trump Presidency. We wish the American  voter all the best  when they go to the polls. Voter turnout will be crucial. –Dr. Kamsiah G. Haider and Din Merican

Time for Scholars and Intellectuals to speak up for Freedom of Thought


October 29, 2016

Time for Scholars and Intellectuals to speak up for Freedom of Thought

by Kris Hartley

Kris Hartley is a Lecturer in the Department of City and Regional Planning at Cornell University, where he teaches quantitative methods and public sector economics. He is also a Faculty Fellow at Cornell’s Atkinson Center and a Nonresident Fellow for Global Cities at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs.

He holds research appointments at the Center for New Structural Economics at Peking University, the Institute of Water Policy at National University of Singapore, and the Center for Government Competitiveness at Seoul National University. In the past four years Kris has held academic appointments throughout Asia, including Visiting Researcher at the University of Hong Kong, Visiting Lecturer in economics at Vietnam National University, Visiting Researcher at Seoul National University, Visiting Research Fellow at the University of the Philippines, and research and teaching assistant at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy.

Kris focuses on economic policy, urban planning, and environmental management. An avid global traveller, he has visited 50 countries and resided in ten on three continents. Kris received a B.A. in classics (Phi Beta Kappa) from the University of Tennessee, an M.B.A. from Baylor University, a Master of City Planning from the University of California–Berkeley, and a PhD in Public Policy from the National University of Singapore.

Scholars should allocate a portion of their time to addressing social injustice, Kris Hartley writes, and academics of all disciplines have a crucial role to play.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s draconian crackdown on university professors and deans has sent a chill through global academia. While Turkey’s oppressive political climate appears uniquely hopeless, free speech is under assault around the world as a wave of authoritarianism crashes ashore. Politically opportunistic ‘strong-men’ such as Erdoğan, Vladimir Putin, Rodrigo Duterte, and potentially Donald Trump are taking advantage of fears about terrorism and globalisation while ridiculing opponents as weak and traitorous.

Image result for Intellectuals and Scholars --Time to Speak and Make a difference

Sadly, their actions do not end there. Stifling freedom of thought has priority status in the dictator’s playbook and limited press freedom in many countries is an unsettling bellwether. Scholars may be next in line at the figurative guillotine, but does the academic system encourage them to fight back?

A widely circulated 2015 commentary by Asit Biswas and Julian Kirchherr argued that scholars are not doing enough to address real-world problems, with credibility and job security reliant almost exclusively on publishing output. Indeed, the academic promotion system rewards publication in journals that are at once elite (to a few) and obscure (to everyone else). Aspiring scholars are further incentivised by the metricization of research. One example is “impact factor,” a measurement of the mentions one article receives in other articles.

Like a tempest in a teacup, this tiny professional realm buzzes with insular measures of self-importance. It can do better.

Are academic elites repelled by activism and public engagement? The aforementioned term “impact” is misleading and has little concern with the practical world. Resources and intellectual capital are devoted to journal articles that reflect brilliant work but often receive little attention outside the teacup. More tragically, such work monopolises the time of scholars who could otherwise allocate some effort to social advocacy through their own discipline-specific perspectives.

A sea-change in the way scholars view their profession – rejecting the role of intellectual line-workers and embracing that of publically-engaged thought leaders – would not only inspire change-makers to enter academia but also lead to more impactful research.

Scholars are often portrayed as arrogant pontificators luxuriating in the proverbial ivory tower. Indeed, modern society has in most parts of the world granted them the freedom to speak as they please. It is left to the marketplace of ideas to reward some with publicity and others with indifference. However, when authoritarianism rises, scholars are among the first to be silenced. From Hitler to Pol Pot, and now to Erdoğan, the early stages of power consolidation see intellectual freedom deemed a threat to political legitimacy. Unenlightened governments fear that an informed populace is a noncompliant one. Fortunately, they are correct.

Image result for Intellectuals and Scholars --Time to Speak and Make a difference

More Noam Chomskys Needed Urgently

What can the world’s scholars do to help inform the populace? The modern academic profession is globally connected, particularly in research addressing universal problems like financial crises, pandemics, terrorism, and climate change. Academia offers a platform for immediate action through the strength of its networks. It is as unfair to expect scholars in Erdoğan’s Turkey to take a public stand against rising authoritarianism, as it also would have been in Stalin’s Russia or Pol Pot’s Cambodia. Outspokenness in such environments can be career suicide – or worse.

Image result for Erdogan and Academic Freedom in Turkey

However, scholars in liberal countries can be valuable partners in exposing political ills, using information provided by their peers in at-risk countries. Information, like education, is a peaceful but useful weapon against authoritarianism. Several years passed before the world became aware of Pol Pot’s atrocities in Cambodia and governments were slow to act. It took the Khmer Rouge’s foolish military provocations to elicit the ire of Vietnam, resulting in swift regime change. Pol Pot, like Kim Jong-un today, tried to seal his country from information flows. Even in the modern era of ubiquitous information access, awareness alone has not always led to action (an example is the Darfur crisis). External intervention for regime change is a risky strategy and many governments fear domestic political blowback. Regardless, lack of exposure should never be a reason for predatory regimes enduring and academia can play an important role.

This call to action recognises the importance of maintaining a firewall between scholarly research and commentary. Credibility in one is not mutually exclusive of the other, as proven by the many internationally visible thought leaders holding academic positions (such as Paul Krugman and Robert Reich). It is crucial to the quality of scholarship that academic writing remains robust, scientific, and ideologically neutral; research should stand on its own scientific merit rather than on emotional arguments or political currency. Still, many journals now request authors to provide bullet points listing the practical implications of their research. While this effort recognises the gap between theory and practice, scholars must also go beyond bullet points and use their credibility to draw broader attention to social, economic, and political issues that have an impact on – and are explained by – their own particular disciplines.
Image result for Najib Razak and the ISA

Malaysia’s Plutocrat ala Erdogan–Freedom with Words and Double Speak

History may regard the current era as a reincarnation of the 1930s, when a ramp-up of authoritarianism was watched with nervousness before spiralling out of control. Scholars are positioned to fight back through a global conversation about freedom, fairness, and social justice. Hasty actions against academia by nervous authoritarian governments are evidence of this power.

Scholars who allot even a paltry 10 per cent of their time to addressing social injustice can make a transformative difference. No discipline is beyond this conversation. The social sciences – including economics, political science and sociology – are directly relevant. The fields of business, health, education, science, and humanities also offer valuable perspectives on government malfeasance, failed policy, and humanitarian strife. The venues are numerous – press publications, blogs, even Facebook posts – and in the modern era of social media a commentary in an obscure outlet can receive widespread attention almost instantly.

The renowned educator Horace Mann once said: “be ashamed to die until you have won some victory for humanity.” To paraphrase this, scholars should feel professionally unfulfilled until they have made dictators uncomfortable. Academia is capable of maintaining its scientific standards while mobilising for progress. Growing authoritarianism is a call to reinforce this effort.

Kris Hartley is a Lecturer in the Department of City and Regional Planning at Cornell University, a Faculty Fellow at Cornell’s Atkinson Center and a Nonresident Fellow for Global Cities at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs.

This article is published in collaboration with Policy Forum — Asia and the Pacific’s leading platform for policy analysis and discussion.

Professor, speak up and make a difference

 

Islamisation and its Freudian discontents


October 27, 2016

Islamisation and its Freudian discontents

by Azly Rahman

http://www.malaysiakini.com

Image result for azly rahman

I am back. I took a few weeks hiatus from this column to wrote a few literary essays, chapters from my memoir of growing up in the “sewel but sober and sensible seventies” – the best of times of the times of P Ramlee – as well as writing a long essay on the key novels of Salman Rushdie.

I spend days listening to the music of Pink Floyd and reading a collection of essays from the book ‘Pink Floyd and Philosophy’. These however did not keep me away from thinking about the issues in Malaysia, viewed from a global perspective.

The unresolved issue if the world’s record-breaking, hideously-linked case of the 1MDB. The ongoing drama of PAS, UMNO, Amanah, and the opposition parties. The continuing push for the Sharia Law add-on of the hudud. The story of the insanely massive amount of cash found in Sabah as it relates to corruption in the Water Department. The seeming helplessness of the Malaysian people in their struggle to demand for better and cleaner governance.

The failure of the Mahathirist slogan of ‘Bersih, Cekap, Amanah’ (Clean, Efficient, Trustworthy). The continuing saga of the Dr Mahathir Mohamad-Najib Abdul Razak-Anwar Ibrahim triangulating vendetta in the tradition of Mario Puzo’s la Cosa Nostra.

And today, I read about the story of the young father who jumped off the Penang Bridge in an apparent suicide for personal and political reasons, it seems. A Muslim who ended his life, leaving a wife and two young children – leaving this world after asking for forgiveness from God as well. A suicide note written both in despair and in great confidence.

At the global level, I thought of these: Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton – both will be warmongers of the new age of Russian-American authored Armageddon. World War III. New weapons of mass destruction. Aleppo, Syria. The battle for Mosul. The new Saudi Arabia after the fall of the empire of oil. The Saudi attacks on Yemen. The new Saudi Arabian venture: finance, tourism, and arms manufacturing.

Then there are also these global bogeymen called Al-Qaeda and IS – the invisible and elusive armies of Islam it seems that are keeping the American and the Russian war-machine going.

Image result for azly rahman

All these in my mind as song after song from classic Pink Floyd albums play on. “Mother do you think they’ll drop the bomb?” asks Pink Floyd in the lyrics and I thought of Aleppo and the total destruction of once-beautiful Syria. Just like the total destruction of the once-beautiful and learned Baghdad. Destroyed by the Americans in their tens of trillion-dollars war.

I thought of these. I thought of this thing called ‘Islamic philosophy’ I thought existed. I had these questions:

Is Islamic philosophy totally dead? Murdered by the Charlotte Cordays of the theocratic-hypocritical imams of its own creation? As we know from the history of the French Revolution, Charlotte Corday murdered the scientist and revolutionary-philosopher Marat, signifying the beginning of the political war between the Jacobins and the Girondins.

How could it be possible for Muslims, whose daily confessions include saying that “God is closer to you than your jugular vein”, be creating governments that help “society be closer to Nature”, to philosophies of sustainability, rather than be destroyers of it?

Progress mistaken to be monopolising of licences

How could such a spiritually-cognitive dissonance be the leitmotif of many an Islamic government when the religion itself is supposed to preach, amongst others, ecologically sustainable plans for national development rather than surrender to Das Kapital – or capitalism – spiced with Quranic verses calling for the advancement of the ummah through economic progress, yet progress here is mistaken to be the monopolising of the licences to rape and plunder Nature – cutting down trees, destroying rainforests, desertifying fertile lands, throwing indigenous peoples out of their traditional lands (because they are not Muslims and therefore spiritually incomplete as human beings), and to do everything that tak

In short, what manner of a French-Revolution that Islamic societies, such as Malaysia, such as the state calling itself “the verandah of Makkah” (serambi Makkah) that is allowing the rape of Nature to happen whilst the idea of Islam as a religion of peace (at peace with Nature) is being made the agenda of global dakwah?

Image result for Islamisation in malaysia

Public Display of Piety in Malaysia by UMNO Malays

Help us understand this:How do Muslims remedy this situation? Resolve this contradiction? Reverse this trend of Islamisation? Could it be that Islam as a religion does not have a praxis (applications of the principles of Philosophy to social needs), demanding Nature to be preserved and the dignity of human Nature be upheld?

This could be an improbable claim but judging from the way Islamic governments engaging in destroying rainforests, building weapons of mass destruction, allowing leaders to live like Pharaohs and Croesus (Firauns and Qaruns), and bombing each other to the seventh level of Hell (as in Saudi Arabia and Yemen) – it looks as if Islam is devoid of a Lao-Tzian/Daoist philosophy of living and statecraft much-needed in this world already destroyed by the excesses of Western Civilisation which pride itself in a strange descartian pride of controlling and destroying Nature through the growth of Empires, colonisation, Imperialism, and now post-Imperialistic post-Apocalyptic regimes engaged in all forms of state-sponsored terrorism, sanctioned as well by an underlying philosophy of false Judeo-Christianity.

Guns, guts, glories – destruction of the colonies. Civilising mission. The Crusades. The Conquistadors and the Cross – these are prelude to the anti-humanism of the teachings of the Jesus at The Sermon on the Mount – of the reminders of the Beatitudes. These are ignored and hence, the new world of a strange brew – religion, capitalism, a truncated version of Weber’s protestant ethics and the ghosts and spirits of capitalism roaming the modern world ruled by cybernetic-terroristic technologies.

Is this the world we created? A nightmare of Cartesian absurdities? Help explain these.

 

Bob Dylan and The Nobel Prize–What’s UP


October 26, 2016

Bob Dylan and The Nobel Prize–What’s Up?

by Adam Kirsch

www. nytimes.com

In the summer of 1964, Bob Dylan released his fourth album, “Another Side of Bob Dylan,” which includes the track “It Ain’t Me Babe.” “Go ’way from my window/Leave at your own chosen speed,” it begins. “I’m not the one you want, babe/I’m not the one you need.”

That fall, the philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre played a variation on the same tune in a public statement explaining why, despite having been awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature, he would not accept it. “The writer,” he insisted, must “refuse to allow himself to be transformed into an institution, even if this occurs under the most honorable circumstances.” Mr. Dylan was talking to an imaginary lover, Sartre to an actual Swedish Academy, but the message was similar: If you love me for what I am, don’t make me be what I am not.

Image result for Bob Dylan and the Nobel Prize

We don’t know whether Mr. Dylan was paying attention to l’affaire Sartre that fall 52 years ago. But now that he has been awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature, he seems to be following in Sartre’s footsteps. Indeed, Mr. Dylan has done the philosopher one better: Instead of declining the prize, he has simply declined to acknowledge its existence. He hasn’t issued a statement or even returned the Swedish Academy’s phone calls. A reference to the award briefly popped up on the official Bob Dylan website and then was deleted — at his instruction or not, nobody knows. And the Swedes, who are used to a lot more gratitude from their laureates, appear to be losing their patience: One member of the Academy has called Mr. Dylan’s behavior “impolite and arrogant.”☺ There is a good deal of poetic justice in this turn of events.

For almost a quarter of a century, ever since Toni Morrison won the Nobel in 1993, the Nobel committee acted as if American literature did not exist — and now an American is acting as if the Nobel committee doesn’t exist. Giving the award to Mr. Dylan was an insult to all the great American novelists and poets who are frequently proposed as candidates for the prize.

The all-but-explicit message was that American literature, as traditionally defined, was simply not good enough. This is an absurd notion, but one that the Swedes have embraced: In 2008, the Academy’s permanent secretary, Horace Engdahl, declared that American writers “don’t really participate in the big dialogue of literature” and are limited by that “ignorance.”

Still, it’s doubtful that Mr. Dylan intends his silence to be a defense of the honor of American literature. (He did, after all, accept the Pulitzer Prize for “lyrical compositions of extraordinary poetic power.”) No one knows what he intends — Mr. Dylan has always been hard to interpret, both as a person and as a lyricist, which is one reason people love him. But perhaps the best way to understand his silence, and to praise it, is to go back to Sartre, and in particular to Sartre’s concept of “bad faith.”

Bad faith, Sartre explains in “Being and Nothingness,” is the opposite of authenticity. Bad faith becomes possible because a human being cannot simply be what he or she is, in the way that an inkwell simply is an inkwell.

Rather, because we are free, we must “make ourselves what we are.” In a famous passage, Sartre uses as an example a cafe waiter who performs every part of his job a little too correctly, eagerly, unctuously. He is a waiter playing the role of waiter. But this “being what one is not” is an abdication of freedom; it involves turning oneself into an object, a role, meant for other people. To remain free, to act in good faith, is to remain the undefined, free, protean creatures we actually are, even if this is an anxious way to live.

This way of thinking is what used to be called existentialism, and Mr. Dylan is one of its great products. Living like a complete unknown, like a rolling stone, is living in Sartrean good faith, and much of the strangeness of Mr. Dylan’s life can be understood as a desperate attempt to retain this freedom in the face of the terrific pressure of fame. In a profile in The New Yorker in that same year of 1964, Mr. Dylan was quoted as saying that he didn’t “want to write for people anymore” but rather wanted to “write from inside me.”

Image result for the nobel prize in literature

To be a Nobel laureate, however, is to allow “people” to define who one is, to become an object and a public figure rather than a free individual. The Nobel Prize is in fact the ultimate example of bad faith: A small group of Swedish critics pretend to be the voice of God, and the public pretends that the Nobel winner is Literature incarnate. All this pretending is the opposite of the true spirit of literature, which lives only in personal encounters between reader and writer. Mr. Dylan may yet accept the prize, but so far, his refusal to accept the authority of the Swedish Academy has been a wonderful demonstration of what real artistic and philosophical freedom looks like.