Sunday, December 09, 2007

World Cultures Compete (as memes) Over Human Destiny


This will be one of my super-wide perspectives on cultures in conflict, comparing confrontations of the past (the Cold War) to our present North-South crises, and continuing through what may be (I predicted, long ago) the final, East-West struggle over the ultimate shape of human governance, across the centuries to come.

But it all begins with something much closer to home. Please be patient, because it will all tie together, I promise!


One of my ongoing themes has dealt with the plight of our professional castes, as they are harried from above by incompetent but super-empowered politicians...while also worrying about competition from below, amid a rising Age of Amateurs. In a period of transition that appears to have gone completely unnoticed by any other pundits or commentators, it appears that those who most benefitted from the 20th Century -- the professionals -- now seem to be caught in a squeeze of transforming proportions.

One has to sympathize with these skilled men and women, especially, in government service, who have slowly come to realize their quandary. For example, those in the intelligence services, who seem to finally have found the courage, in their recent National Intelligence Estimate about Iran, to stand up and tell the truth, instead of what they were ordered to say. Why have they obeyed - till now - political masters who were clearly stupid and monomaniacal, if not outright mad? Recent years have re-taught a valuable lesson -- that people are people. Though sworn to protect constitutional law and an open society, each member of the civil service can be expected to do the human thing, drifting toward some comfortable or safe path. Toward safe or reassuring assumptions. Especially protecting his or her career. This can affect not only their actions, but what they are able to perceive.

It’s not a new phenomenon. So, it might be a good time to do one of our trademark “step-backs” in order to seek perspective... from the land where the entire concept of meritocracy was invented, more than a thousand years ago.

Indeed, it seems time to link this topic to another theme of mine -- that of “meme war.

To start off, have a look at an excellent op-ed piece by David Brooks - “The Dictatorship of Talent” - which illustrates how the present leadership caste in China tries to blend the needs of a modern industrial state with the traditions of merit-based professionalism, all under a pyramidal hierarchical system of authority, with a heavy gloss of Confucian tradition. The article is fascinating...

... and, of course, only scratches the surface of what will surely be the major, determining conflict of the middle decades of the 21st Century. A rivalry not only of two cultures and two models of governance, but of entirely contradictory visions of how to run an advanced civilization.

It can be hard to see the forest for the trees. So let’s do that step-back for perspective.


During the Cold War, people found it difficult to look below superficial layers of communist rhetoric, to understand something basic -- that the Soviet Union was never really all that much about communism at all! Historians could tell that, underneath the change of name and nomenclature, that “evil empire” was essentially just another manifestation of old-fashioned Russian hedgemonism, propelled by a paranoid tradition that stretched all the way back to Mongol and Tatar invasions of long ago. (If anything, communist ideology probably softened, rather than hardened, the ferocity of the Cold War standoff, since it preached against calling adversaries inhuman, a habit that the czars indulged in, all the time.)

Was the Communist Revolution of 1917 much more than a cosmetic change of surfaces, a shift from one paranoid Russian clique to another oligarchy of obsessive overcompensation? A nomenklatura that touted a different catechism, but behaved almost exactly the same as the one it replaced? Indeed, well before the revolution, Alexis de Tocqueville, H.G. Wells, and several others had predicted that the latter 20th Century would revolve around two poles, in a tense rivalry between a pragmatic-open Enlightenment America and a despotic-romantic Imperial Russia.

In a 1989 speech and article, I predicted the shattering of the USSR and the fall of the Iron Curtain, because of a partial but significant shift in this psychological rigor. I forecast that it would happen when -- for the first time in centuries -- a new top clade of Russian leaders took command, who had never known desperate privation or a struggle against foreign invaders.

Coaxed, also, by an increasingly open world culture and the questioning attitudes of science, the paranoid fever would finally break, at least enough to let satellite nations split off without brutal repression -- thus proving the wisdom of George Marshall’s long term strategy of “patient strength.”

There was a lot more to the Meme War concept, but a key point was that our Cold War enemy had never been communism, per se (which was always a bit goofy and earnest, for a militant-imperial religion), but rather, the psychological state of mind that lay beneath. One that used communism as a convenient and pliant surface rationalization, just as the Czars would have kept using traditionalism and religion to push the very same aggressive policies, if they had stayed in power.

Paranoia has many forms, but on a national scale it can manifest in a perpetual yearning for the Strong Leader. In clear, xenophobic divisions of us-vs-them. In a fierce and prickly inferiority complex and in an insatiable need to demonstrate strength. As a cultural frame of mind, paranoia is utterly incompatible with enlightenment thinking. And crucially, over the long run, any solution would have to be as much psychological as based on military or economic strength.

Let’s not be rosy-viewed. Back when Francis Fukayama was calling the fall of the USSR the “End of History,” I said that Russian Paranoia had not finished its long and tenacious run, nor would a swing from communism back to older Russian incantations ensure profound change. Culture is dogged and there will be a yearning for strong leaders over there, for a long time to come. Witness Vladimir Putin. Who could have been worse.

Still, my point is that the paranoid fever did break, largely for the reason I forecast, at least enough for that most dangerous phase of that confrontation to pass. Just in time for the ensuing one.


Likewise, today we are transfixed with what I forecast in 1989 to be our next major adversary -- not so much a particular nation or superficial dogma, but one brand or another of cultural machismo. One of the hot-belt cultures, that have long revolved around male-dominated memes, tribal loyalties, deeply suspicious religiosity and prickly, short-tempered pride.

Back in that 1989 speech and essay, I predicted that one of these memic realms would have to dig in and resist - often violently - the cultural changes threatened by Western influence. Especially the influence that our culture might have on their womenfolk.

I suggested, then, that it would likely be some of the Islamic macho nationalities, that led a violent and angry rejection of neo-western values. But I left open the possibility that Latin or Hindi versions of machismo might lead the way, instead. In any event, we do seem to be in the full flux of that era, exacerbated by our own leadership’s counter-productive strategy of pouring gasoline on every fire.

Among all of my successful “predictive hits,” this is probably the biggest... and one where I’d most like to have been wrong.

Our long range hope? Shall we wage physical and confrontational “war” against something as slippery and massive as a cultural meme? And who shall we bomb, then? Shall we kill faster than doing so will recruit even more angry young men, filling the pipeline until some of them really get their act together? Isn’t that, well, imitating the macho bluster of the enemy?

How fortunate that we were much wiser, less rash and more patient (despite lapses like Vietnam), during the Cold War!

No, George Marshall’s wisdom still applies. Strength and assertiveness are vital, but only when combined with savvy, stamina, and a willingness to study the arts of cultural jiu jitsu. Those cultures that are now opposing us will change when a generation of women arises among them that is able to assert themselves. (And, if we help, subtly, how could they not?)


What does all of this have to do with David Brooks’s excellent article about Chinese meritocracy?

Well, assuming that we do succeed in weathering the present storm and thriving, somehow regaining our confidence and pragmatic common sense, enough to help lead a vivid and confident Enlightenment West... and assuming that the Macho Belt calms down enough to accept modernity’s inevitable progress... then (according to my model) we would see a final, mid-century tussle over which model of human governance should gain favor among future generations.

How will Earthlings, who are eager to get on with planetary -- and interplanetary -- life, settle their issues, allocate resources, and generally handle the problems of running a complex civilization?

The crux: with the fading of both the empires of paranoia and male frenzy, we’ll be left with an East-West dichotomy ... one that ought to be settled peacefully, since both of these final “sides” recognize the inefficiency and cost and inherent uncertainty of violence.

Non-violence sounds great, for a change. But that doesn’t mean it won’t be a struggle. Because a whole lot will be at stake. In fact, just about everything.

Elsewhere, I talk at length about the essential difference between two fundamental modes of governance. One of these dominated the vast majority of past human societies -- at least those that achieved metals and agriculture -- traditional, pyramidal human cultures ruled by hierarchies of fiercely-protected privilege. Under these ruling oligarchies, wealth and investment and ownership were all controlled under the notion of GAR, or Guided Allocation of Resources.

Despite operating under diverse superficial mythologies and doctrines, from theocracies to feudal kingdoms to empires to nomenklaturas, the deeper system has tended to be the same, as if arising out of basic human nature.

Indeed, the emerging Chinese pattern that Brooks describes would appear to be among the most flexible and fair versions of pyramidal authoritarianism ever produced! One that was first crafted in postwar Japan, then refined into a high art, in Singapore, by the ingenious Lee Kwan Yew. On a much more vast scale, the rulers in Beijing are trying to combine Chinese traditions of civil service meritocracy, plus Confucian notions of noblesse oblige, with carefully unleashed market forces... along with some dollops of residual Communist-egalitarian catechism ... toward a single bold ambition. Making their emerging power-pyramid about as well-run and decent as any structured oligarchy can be.

There is even a strong likelihood that the top ruling clades in China see - with intelligent clarity -- the advantages offered by freedom of speech and open criticism! At least, as these corrective forces might apply to lower and more local administration levels. They know that only transparent, enlightenment processes can reliably staunch systemic corruption among corporations, provincial and urban chiefs, or the civil service. You can expect experiments in local investigative journalism and civic activism to continue. But these tools-of-light will be carefully limited and prevented from focusing upon society’s top tiers. There will be no more Tienanmen Square democracy festivals.

Without any doubt, this plan is an ambitious, complex and difficult arrangement. That is, assuming they can succeed at making such a blending work, at all. Can an increasingly educated and technologically-empowered citizenry be prevented from eventually turning their gaze -- skeptically and critically -- upward, at the top elites? Forever?

We in the West would tend to answer, no. But we are not imbued with some powerfully tenacious cultural memes -- of conformity, group loyalty, and tradition reverence -- that (let’s admit) have the momentum of both human history and human nature on their side. (And, even without those cultural influences, a drift back toward elite/command leadership is always possible here; there are forces always pushing in that direction.)

If the Chinese leadership clade does succeed at translating Lee Kwan Yew’s method into a successfully stable mode for a billion and a half Chinese, then humanity will be offered a genuinely interesting choice, by mid-century. On the one hand, the very best version of oldstyle, oligarchy-led governance possible.

On the other hand, Earth citizens will be offered an updated version of the Western Enlightenment. One that has weathered the trials of a Cold War, a Machismo Meme War, and (we can hope) a successful self renewal, after years of despoliation by the recent Neoconservative Putsch.


Let’s take a closer look at the neoconfucian governance model, and see how it attempts, with great agility, to incorporate many Western tools, while maintaining a core fidelity to older ways.

Within the great pyramid of authority, there will be countless small sub pyramids of authority, nested together, some of them based on corporate structure and others representing a myriad layers or sub agencies of government. But all of them constantly on the lookout for talent. Whenever some anomalous son or daughter of peasants displays real promise, he or she will be found, nurtured, taught the right combination of assertion and obeisance and then put to work. Because skill and talent in an underling can help to make the lord of any local pyramid more successful.

Note that one of the great failings of past feudal societies was their incredible waste of human resources, by consigning women, minorities, under-castes, and the children of the poor into predestined subservience, with cauterized opportunities to get education or show what they could do. Oligarchs and lords did this in order to prevent competition from below. It happened on nearly all continents, in nearly all eras. But, significantly, the invention of civil service process did offer up a primitive counter current. An incentive for oligarchs and elites to foster talent, rather than repress it. Only in a manner that remained under tight supervision and control.

Yes, it remained inefficient and unfair, all through the centuries of Chinese Imperium -- only a partial improvement over other nations. But now ponder a system of nested pyramidal fiefdoms, in which this process is given fresh vigor by universal education, technology and a rapid modern economy. Not only would any local lord keep looking for the next “find” to nurture, he may even pass this talented one upward, to the next layer, to his own equivalent of a feudal overlord, thus helping the next-larger pyramid and receiving credit for the find.

Thus, a form of social mobility will be possible, even encouraged, under this advanced form of neoconfucionism. Though not of a kind that most of us in the West would like. Not one that rewards truly bold or revolutionary ideas. Never individuals or ideas that are outright rebellious, or pushy, or disrespectful. But when did that ever happen?

Well, it did happen, once. In the Enlightenment West, where the ideal version of “Horatio Alger” social mobility often rewarded the delivery of goods, services or ideas in proportion to their startling, forward stepping value. At least, that was the idea, honored at least often enough to make us feel disappointed, when it wasn’t. Even more important than the inherent justice provided by social mobility, this new mode offered dramatically non-linear benefits, whenever markets, science, and democracy managed to stay open, filled with both spontaneous cooperation and vibrantly fair competition.

Culturally, this Western Enlightenment process focused on the individual, a fixation that other cultures have accused of fostering anomie, selfishness, greed, alienation and even a sense of cruel, solipsistic detachment from the needs of others. On the other hand, those other cultures had few linguistic or conceptual correlates with our word “fun.”

(A fresh note that I hadn’t thought of, before: the civil service concept appears to have begun in China at about the same time as democracy glimmered, in pre Periclean Athens. Different responses to the same essential need? To overcome the problem of wasted talent, in cruder oligarchies? If so, both of them only improved social mobility by a nudge, not a leap.)


Imagine a possibility -- that the forward movement of the Enlightenment West were to resume, after its dismal, turn-of-the century hiatus. Picture our democracy, markets, science, law and knowledge-empowered citizenry improving once again, perhaps by as much as they did in the Progressive Era, or during the fecund, egalitarian and reform-minded time after World War II. If we tuned up this Great Experiment by one more big notch, by as ambitious a degree as the Chinese seem to be tuning up their ultimate version of pyramidal oligarch, then what a choice the people of this planet will be offered!

A choice between the best of the East and the best of the West.

Let there be no doubt. The alternative, to be set before the world, is either-or. A dichotomy that can only be resolved in favor of one governance mode, or the other.

I am not saying there cannot be compromises! Or that each side cannot learn from the other. Indeed, from Lee Kwan Yew to Deng Xiaopeng, all the way back to the earlier master planners of the Japanese Ministry of Industry and Trade, the founders of Neo-Confucian governance have striven assiduously to study and incorporate every Western process that might be of use... long as it does not threaten their fundamentals. Fundamentals that include an emphasis on respect rather than impudence, on communal serenity over individual exuberance, on predictability over risk-taking, on hierarchical permission-seeking, on some degree of inherited privilege, and on the right of revered elders to pick their own heirs. These things are basic. And they take precedence, even when tools of democracy and capitalism are incorporated at the surface level.

Likewise, the Enlightenment West, especially in its most-brash American form, has also shown a willingness to incorporate and absorb good things from elsewhere -- such as art and music and cultural forms that enter a fermenting stew, providing raw materials for individuals to combine and re-mix at will. This stewpot method has its faults, producing a much lower ratio of good things to utter crap... but it also produces more brilliance, more creativity, more nonlinear leaps, by far. A fact that leaders of the East readily acknowledge.

If the matter were to be settled simply on the basis of fun, or appeal to individual desires, there would be no question of an ultimate outcome. In an open choice, arrived-at calmly by world citizens who have relaxed access to every factor, without fear or pressure or tension, I believe people will drift toward demanding ever-greater personal autonomy. The gradualist-libertarian option (Which, to be honest, resembles the ultimate, utopian Marxist destination!)

On the other hand, if our next century proves rife with innumerable dangers -- as some of our own best and brightest predict -- including potentially awful technological breakthroughs that might empower small groups, or even individuals, to wreak great devastation, then one could see the people seeking comfort and protection in communal attitudes, and, especially, opting for a system that revolves around a core, paternalistic elite. Not a new idea, in fact, but a prescription as old as Plato.

A persuasive argument, indeed... though probably also mistaken. Because, inherent in this choice that I have laid out, is an incentive for one side to foster feelings of fear. Clouding the argument over future-dangers, by exaggerating them, and thus offering rationalizations for power.


In any event, that is how I see it, as one who tries to show the yin-yang advantages and faults of each side...

...while admitting that I believe passionately in the further potential of the Enlightenment. Not because it is “good” so much as because it, and it alone, ever found a methodology for dealing with humanity’s worst fault - rationalized self deception.

In theory, there is no limit to the power of open, reciprocal accountability to ensure both the benefits of freedom and the safety of early error discovery... far better than protective, paternalistic groups could ever manage. It is a win-win phenomenon that explains all the success of the West, so far. The very notion that we can rise up from zero-sum games and forge into a civilization that is prodigiously positive-sum.

Of course, past performance is no indicator of future success. Indeed, the Enlightenment West -- and the American great experiment - have shown signs, lately, that its citizenries lack the maturity to take things forward the next notch, and then the next. The swing away from delegated legislatures toward executive power. The widening wealth gap. The plunge away from discourse and negotiation, toward dogmatic positions, all of these are danger signs.

There have been falterings before. They were overcome through rising education, satiation, perspective and awareness. Citizens clambered up and adapted, from illiteracy to crude newspapers, to urban libraries, to mass media, to internet mediated access to all the world’s knowledge in an instant. May our neighbors rise to the present challenge, as well.

Still, if the Enlightenment has reached genuine limits, if humans simply aren’t up to the task, or if on-off calamities can only be stayed by paternalistic power, then maybe the Eastern Model would be best. At least, then, our great-great grandchildren will exist. They would survive. I expect this will be the rationalization. Indeed, we are already hearing it from many quarters.

But I will not, cannot, swallow it. Across at least 400 years, the citizens of the Enlightenment have surprised every doubter and surpassed every declared limit to human powers of self-governance. As de Tocqueville pointed out, midway through that span of time, the process is not elegant or serene, or dignified, or efficient... it simply performs miracles. Bona fide, unquestionable, overwhelming and astounding miracles.

For a people to doubt this, having learned to race faster than cheetahs, to fly faster than birds, to walk on the Moon, to peer at atoms and singularities, to cure themselves of bigotries, to begin tending creation... have done all those things and so many more, and fail in confidence? Well, that would be the strangest and most tragic accomplishment of all.

==I discuss this in my short story collection, Otherness.



Anonymous said...

I am impressed very few people are talking about this important topic. Two I know of are Peter Navarro in the book the coming china wars and Chalmers Johnson in his earlier books about the Asian economies.

The prose does seem a little fragmented and I found myself skimming to get to your main point.

Also I finished your most recent book and really enjoyed it.

Rob Perkins said...

I'm impressed myself by the similarity between the Chinese model and most-if-not-all of the hiring and promotion models of the largest commercial corporations.

In a big company like, say, Time Warner, or GE, there is an oligarchy of directors, atop a pyramidal organization. There is guided allocation of resources. Membership at various levels is contingent on the passage of certain tests (e.g. a bachelor's degree).

All in theory, just like the Chinese pyramidal ideal.

At one point in the past few years, I even heard a commentator claim that the command economy had already won, because all these corporations all had command economies.

So that makes me wonder, because David has said that the two ideal models can't be mixed... but that's exactly what we're doing to a certain extent in Western society, and especially in the United States, where a representative electoral system with human rights guarantees regulates a bunch of command economies.

The resultant world culture could very definitely contain a meshing of the two worldviews, into something where each citizen has to hold the apparently conflicting ideas in his own head, in order to get by.

Said another way, perhaps: competition begets and coexists with cooperation. Now where did I hear that bit of wisdom before? Hmm...

David Brin said...

Excellent point, Brother Doug!

One might simplistically say that the West wants openness and Reciprocal Accountability at the top, policy layers, while allowing command GAR below... while the East has this reversed.

Only... that IS simplistic. Because of course the East will have all these corporations too. And because our elites want GAR to take over at the top.

I went ahead and inserted the following into my essay. You can put it anywhere you like.

(Or are we so different, after all? Yes, our top tier institutions -- democracy and markets and science -- are supposed to be open, filled with light and subject to the competitive tussle of reciprocal accountability. But the component participants in democracy and markets are often far more traditional, ruled from the top by capricious whim, or backroom dealmaking, or even autocratic dictate.

(Take our political parties, or your typical corporation. In a big company like, say, Time Warner, or Exxon or Fox, there is an oligarchy of directors, or a single magnate-CEO, ruling from the apex of a pyramidal organization.

(Men who profess to despise GAR (Guided Allocation of Resources) when it is done by government -- claiming that mass wisdom of markets will always be wiser than any command-allocator can be -- then turn around and apportion assets and capital in precisely the old-fashioned way, never noting the irony.

(Moreover, membership in the corporate hierarchy at various levels is contingent on the passage of certain tests (e.g. degrees from good colleges). All in theory, just like the Chinese pyramidal ideal. Indeed, it might be suggested that the command economy won in the West, after all, because all nearly all corporations are command economies. )

My 2 Cents said...

Wow! So many words, so little wisdom.

Humans are hunters/gatherers. Our ancestors have spent 6 millions years doing this. Civilization has been around for a measly 12,000 years. Not sufficient time to affect our genes.

What you say is right, what Russia says is right, what China says is right; is irrelevant. What is right is what agrees with our genes.

Russia, by that I mean communism, says we should share everything. Hunters/gatherers says we share food, but not the tools to collect it.

China says we should share our social position. Hunters/gatherers says we share food, not our prestige by sharing it.

Capitalism says we should not share anything. Hunters/gatherers say we share food.

We are hunters/gatherers. What we call "Good" agrees with this. What we call "Evil" disagrees.

You, like many philosophers, try to conform our genes to your imaginations. Please stop. Shred your religion and look at our past as a scientist.

My 2 Cents said...

Oops, I meant to say: Shed your religion...

(This blog does not have an edit function.)

Anonymous said...

@ my 2 cents

What you argue is based on an unsupported extrapolation over 5 orders of magnitude (!) from a cartoonish model of tribalism to multi-continent sized economies.

What Dr. Brin argues is based on hundreds of years of evidence: the successes of the Enlightenment, and of Chinese stability.

psychegram said...

I hope with all my heart that western civilization does manage to renew the Enlightenment. The potential to build something beautiful is certainly there, with the technologies of the 21st century: the internet might make possible a truly participatory democracy, while renewable energy and fabbing foster a culture of self-sufficient individualusm.

But the pushback against it is intense ... America shows all the signs of descending into fascism. It's not just Bush and the neocons - Hillary's every bit as bad - so getting rid of the current junta won't do any good. It'll take one hell of a rising to reverse the tide, much more than a piddling election, and if it doesn't happen before the decade is out I'm pessimistic that it'll happen at all. The technologies of control - surveillance, tracking pharmaceutical, etc - are becoming so sophisticated, and so prevalent, that a real restoration of the Enlightenment might become impossible, in which case the coming meme-war would be won by the Eastern model more or less by default. The choice between a shining Eastern imperium run by competent meritocratically selected elites, and a crumbling, shambling pyramid presided over by corrupt oligarchs in the West ... that's no sort of competition at all.

I'm not completely pessimistic, though. There's a certain something in the air - a recognition of the venality of our ruling elites, and a growing lack of patience with it - that makes me think that maybe, just maybe, the pendulum is starting to swing back.

Stuart said...

I've been lurking on your blog for about a year, and I thought you might be interested in a book I've found for free on the internet.

It's a social science book on authoritarianism. Though it doesn't contain many insights you'd find completely new, it's unusual in that it backs them up with quantitative data. I found it useful in "reality checking" my assumptions about how authoritarians think.

David Brin said...

Calling Hillary "just as bad" amounts to cynical laziness. A wallowing in despair that has no basis. What evidence have you, for this? The fact that the Clintons cut government secrecy in half, while W's boys multiplied it by ten? List the number of common policies, and their opposites. The latter is far longer.

She's not my first choice. But she'll release the professionals. That alone will restore half of the transparency we need. The other half we must fight for.

2cents, please. You recite an eight-line catechism-poem defining human nature... and then tell ME to drop "religion?

You think evolution hasn't happened in the last 12,000 years? Get Wills's CHILDREN OF PROMETHEUS. All evidence shows we've accelerated evolution, prodigiously. Eight percent of the Chinese population is descended from Ghengiz Khan, via his harem. The arrival of beer winnowed populations who could not control their impulses, till a majority of us can "just say no." The list goes on.

The evidence is also in our mythology. Feudal-style romantic stories pervade every mythic system. Now go count for me the stirring legends that tout hunter-gatherer lifestyles.

Yes, a whole lot of our natures are still rooted in that long ere. Vast amounts. See my paper on neoteny! But to blithely dismiss the near-universal tendency of human cultures to pyramidalize is just plain silly.

Stuart, thanks for the authoritarian book ref. Alas, after a couple of chapters, I found a couple of gems, that's all. Yes, conservatives tend to be fearful and wary of change. And reactionaries take this trend into dread-drenched, hate-filled territory, pulling their loyalty horizons so close that they need Strong Leaders to apply that hate against some THEM.

So? I need ways to wake up Ostrich conservatives to their wider-horizon loyalties. I need ways to turn the ostriches against the reactionaries. Alas, that book drives them closer together.

Anonymous said...

A host of scientists, politicians, and industry leaders are calling for a host a science debate during the 2008 campaign.

NoOne said...

The East-West dichotomy is false. Speaking as someone who grew up in India and has lived in the US for over twenty years, I'm always amused by bogus East and West category distinctions. Perhaps the dichotomy makes sense only to people who view themselves as Western, but to the rest, a more nuanced categorical distinction more grounded in the real world is between traditional, modern and postmodern people. The easiest way to see through the East-West distinction is to look at the differences between India and China today.

David Brin said...

I totally agree that my memic model is immensely oversimplified. In part it is because I am utterly mystified by India. I cannot parse exactly what model could be applied to it. Moreover, its recent rise is the one biggest failure of prediction I ever made, and the one I am happiest to be wrong about.

Nevertheless, you are overreacting to the label East-West and ignoring the real meaning. Which is whether we are destined to have a world system of governance like the one that dominated 99% of human cultures and history? Or one that dramatically breaks with that mode.

Seriously, re-read and try to grasp that it really is simple. Pyramidal, oligarchy-led cultures dominated our past. When these get entrenched, their own internal logic makes the oligarchs plan and rule in such a way as to KEEP things pyramidal and hierarchical. Can you honestly tell me that India is not this way?

Socialism is not the answer. It always drifted right into the old mode, where top party members replaced older elites.

The only alternative is flattened social orders that are dispersed, featuring processes that are controlled primarily by law, and by vast numbers of fully knowledgable and fully empowered citizens. I have called this "west" because that is where it happened. Once. If that was the wrong term, sorry.

Still, show me how the fundamental quandary between these two modes can be resolved without one or the other simply winning? In a world of genuine competitive openness, the elites will constantly churn and recycle. In a world CONTROLLED by elites, that will be prevented.

Tony Fisk said...

This topic needs a bit more thought than I've time for right now.

Still, I thought this little article relevant to the East-West discussion:
World 'divided' on press freedom
World opinion is divided on the importance of having a free press, according to a poll conducted for the BBC World Service.

Unfortunately, the poll results don't include China, or India.

David Brin said...

Thanks Tony. Excellent article.
The strongest endorsement for press freedom, even at the cost of reduced social serenity, came from North America and Western Europe, where up to 70% put freedom first, followed by Venezuela, Kenya and South Africa, with over 60%.
In India, Singapore and Russia, by contrast, more people favoured stability over press freedom. In those countries, around 48% of respondents supported controls over the press to ensure peace and stability. Around 40% expressed the view that press freedom was more important.

Note that Idia is, indeed, sampled. Moreover, attitudes in Singapore can be taken to reflect baseline Chinese cultural influences, at least to some extent. Interestingly Kenyans yearn for press freedom, even though only 36% thought they had it.

Of course, this does corelate with my essay. In both the realm of paranoia and that of the serenity-oriented east, social cohesion is ranked more important. But the enlightenment notion of distrusting power shows through in other places.

NoOne said...

David Brin opines "When these get entrenched, their own internal logic makes the oligarchs plan and rule in such a way as to KEEP things pyramidal and hierarchical. Can you honestly tell me that India is not this way?"

First of all, there was no such thing as "India" until 1947. The India that you're referring to took some time to gel as a country and a socialist model made sense at that time to keep the country together. Now that people feel more "Indian", the socialist shackles can be shrugged off and everyone can move in a more modernist direction since there's a large gap here. Since there was no monotheistic religion to enforce a top down order for hundreds of years, Indians have a natural inclination toward postmodern diversity and therefore, postmodern development had been in place for a while predating the modernist one under way now (which is very strange for the outsider). At present, you have development proceeding along traditional, modern and postmodern lines. Your basic dichotomy of authoritarianism versus libertarianism won't work here since you're trying to shoehorn it into something (India) that can be better classified along the lines I suggested: traditional, modern and postmodern. Looked at in this way, India and the U.S. are not that much different really which is why the U.S. is such a great role model for India.

Anonymous said...

Dr. Brin, have you read Paul Krugman's Conscience of a Liberal yet? I just started reading it, and in the first few chapters he talks about the US post-war boom when the middle class was created, which a) can give us some idea how to renew things now and b) questions the standard "build, and the middle class will form on its own" theories in economics.

I've only just started it, so I'll give a fuller report later, once I finish it.

Michael Vassar said...

David: I second the endorsement of the book Stuart mentioned, and am surprised I haven't mentioned it to you before. It's VERY slow and terribly written, so speed-read or get a summary from someone who's time is less valuable but who can recognize the important bits, but it's a VERY important book with surprising and interesting data.

Anonymous said...

Re: the "our hunter-gatherer genes should define our social order" position - have a look at this:

Prof Hawks says: "We are more different genetically from people living 5,000 years ago than they were different from Neanderthals."

With actual numbers in the links! :)

Anonymous said...

Although Singapore (population 3.5 million) correlates quite close to China in freedom of the press See below.

Two much larger chinese communities would seem to suggest that freedom of the press is quite possible and as they are both part of greater china (unlike the soverign nation of singapore 2500 miles away) are probably more reprasentative of the real feelings of the population these are Hong Kong (population 6.7 million ) and Taiwan (population 22.8million)?

Reporters without Borders freedom of the press ranking has both of these as very free presses.

The latest ranking (2006) has Taiwan at No.43 and Hong kong at No.58 - (the US ranks as no 53.) but all the top 80 or so countries are very free.

the rankings are based on a scoring system (the lower the score the free're the press

Finland is no. 1 at 0.5, the UK gets 6.5 (no.27) Taiwan got 10.5, the US 13 and Hong Kong 14.

Singapore got 51.5 (and came in at 127).

China got 94 (163rd)

North Korea with 109 came last at 168th

Kevin Crady said...

Fascinating article, Dr. Brin! However, it seems to rest on the premise that there will be no genuinely disruptive technological advancements. Things like molecular nanotechnology, smarter-than-human artificial intelligences, or virtual reality so immersive that people care more about what's happening in future equivalents of Second Life or World of Warcraft in 2032 than who gets elected President in the meatspace election. If there is one.

Changes of that nature could radically alter the meme-wars in unexpected ways. By 2050 we might be arguing over which reality we want to live in, rather than whether we want the Chinese Way or American Way of conducting business-as-usual.

Also, I think "black swans" like Peak Oil, climate change, or the first gene-hacker with a smallpox mod who believes he will get 72 virgins in the afterlife for flying from airport to airport spreading his pathogen can, and probably will create unexpected major shifts in the direction of history. Back in 1998, everybody was expecting "the end of history," "the end of Big Government," "the Long Boom" and peace dividends. 19 guys with box-cutters pretty much put an end to all that. Though, perhaps nine people in black robes caused a bigger world-changing disaster beforehand by putting the words "President" and "Bush" together again.

I think we will be facing a lot of non-linear change between now and 2050. In that case, I think that neo-Confucian elites and American media-corporate politics-as-usual "democracy" will prove too slow and inflexible to cope effectively.

My guess is that the meme-war will be between "Enlightenment Amateurs"/Open Source/Transhumanists vs. neo-Feudalists organized along the old, old lines of religion, race, ethnicity and tribe.

I think this will also translate into "Fourth Generation" physical warfare. Legacy States will try desperatly to hold onto power with omnisurveillance and expensive weapon systems that can destroy any target but can't make the trains run on time or win the allegiance of the people to the government.

I think they've already lost the meme-war, except maybe in China. In the West, most people to my knowledge equate "politician" with "scum." I don't see any evidence that our culture can produce "revered statesmen/-women" who are admired like FDR or JFK.

In the Islamic world, people loathe their governments and honor non-state leaders like mullahs and tribal head-men.

I have no idea who will win the meme-war between the Enlightenment and the "Back to the Iron Age" neo-Feudalists. I hope it's the Enlightenment. :)

Rob Perkins said...

India is interesting. It's history as a refined and civilized culture goes as far back as ancient Greece, and perhaps farther. And I think those millenia live in all Indian people, especially the caste system and Vedic-descended religion, such as Buddhism and Hinduism.

Think about all that history: Aryans invaded or migrated from Persia, all the way up to Darius. They broke Alexander's push. Mauryans and Guptas tried unification, but largely failed over the long term. The Mongols only succeeded at layering Islam overtop all of that. And that doesn't even begin to cover the turmoil the British and other europeans introduced in the modern age.

Unlike China, India isn't one country. It's more like ten.

There are at least five modes of writing; Arabic (Urdu), Hindi, Tamil, English, Gujarati. 22 or more official languages (with one lingua franca, of course). A number of dialects under that rubric that makes the 300+ dialects of Swiss German look absolutely monolinguistic.

The upshot is that that one nation has more diversity and culture in one of its states than Americans have in the entire United States. It's not a surprise that it's not easily modeled, because by all historical evidence there should be no union whatsoever. It's a miracle, what Ghandi did. It should have been completely impossible.

India, on its current vector, may end up being the greatest example of modernism in the 21st Century, in spite of its castes. Or, it may have a modernist component, and whole hundreds of millions of out-castes. I think it depends on whether they can keep the ideals Ghandi gave them alive long enough.

David Brin said...

k.crady, you must have missed my reply to another person who raised the same issue. I do not deny the possibility of either simgularities or nightmares! In fact, see: (!!)

However, these governance issues are still vital. Should we deal with the pitfalls and opportunities using traditional, paternalistic tools or Enlightenment tools of open criticism? These ARE the two approaches on the table. They will affect the outcome of any challenge.

Your (depressing) scenario is one in which much fear reigns -- much of it deliberately stoked in order to keep peoples’ fealty tied to older (legacy) systems. We are seeing this tested today, as Red America expresses tsunamis of fear and dread and symbolic patriotism combined with religious fervor... while they are the ones NOT in the terror crosshairs. Urbanites who ARE in danger, ironically, seem relatively fearless.

In any event, I doubt your transhumanists and my amateurs can possibly succeed unless some of the Legacy States are friendly and guided by Enlightenment values and, yes, even devolution of power. Without friendliness from some major states, this ain’t gonna happen.


The world may feel more and more like a global village, but its residents are increasingly genetically diverse thanks to the rapidly accelerating pace of human evolution, a study said Monday. Geneticists say the huge explosion in our numbers in the past 40,000 years, since Homo sapiens migrated out of Africa to other continents, has resulted in a much faster pace of evolution compared to the previous six million years.

The pace of change has increased 100-fold in modern times compared to our distant past, and most notably since the Ice Age, 10,000 years ago, and has led to increasing diversification between the races. "We are more different genetically from people living 5,000 years ago than they were different from Neanderthals," said John Hawks, an anthropologist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison who collaborated on the study. The findings are based on analysis of data from an international genomics project. A team of scientists examined DNA from 270 individuals in four ethnically different populations

Contrary to conventional wisdom, which holds that human evolution has slowed to a crawl or even stopped in modern humans, the researchers' analysis suggested that the process of natural selection has sped up. "Rapid population growth has been coupled with vast changes in cultures and ecology, creating new opportunities for adaptation," the authors wrote in the paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. "The past 10,000 years have seen rapid skeletal and dental evolution in human populations, as well as the appearance of many new genetic responses to diet and disease."

Human migrations into new European and Asian environments created selective pressures favoring less skin pigmentation (so more sunlight could be absorbed through the skin to make Vitamin D), adaptation to cold weather and dietary changes. One example of a genetic adaptation to human culture involves the gene that makes the milk-digesting enzyme lactase. The gene normally stops activity about the time a person becomes a teenager, but northern Europeans developed a variation of the gene that allowed them to drink milk their whole lives -- a relatively new adaptation that is directly tied to the introduction of domestic farming and use of milk as an agricultural product.

Anonymous said...

(Zorgon again, logon appears dead.)

10,000 years ago nobody had blue eyes. Human evolution has been speeding up exponentially -- that is, the bigger the population gets, the faster evolution goes, which is the definition of an exponential function. Its growth rate is proportional to its size.

Printing out buildings. A 5-axis giant CNC machining facility is being used to lathe and rout out 40-metre-square sections of a building which will then be bolted together to build the entire structure. In Europe, naturally, since here in America we're too busy torturing people to bother with advancing our technology.

Billionaire Mark Cuban makes some radical suggestions about transparency in government and taxes on small business. Basically, he advocates increasing taxes on the rich in return for more government transparency.

Dr. Brin's discussion of Eastern vs. Western social systems seems like a reasonable if simplified sketch...except that he misses a third method of societal organization, Kevin Kelly-style emergent order (the best examples are Linux operating system development, the grameen banks in India, and Wikipedia).

Also Dr. Brin reaches a conclusion exactly the opposite of what appears to be actually happening. (As Rob points out.) All 3 systems of societal organization appear not to be competing but to be blending into one another and interpenetrating in the manner of mitochondria infiltrating cells and providing them with energy.

Big science used to be exclusively a Chinese-style GAR command system but even the biggest science is now getting significant injections of free-form entrepeneurial traditional Western-style organization, as Craig Venter and others have shown. These two models don't appear to be competing but to complement one another. Some big science (the LHC at CERN) still has to be done by top-down Chinese-style GAR methods of organization. Other science is entirely entrepenurial, while more and more science has both elements (NASA's "faster smaller cheaper" initiative on space probes).

Dr. Brin falls into the absurd trap so many Americans get caught in, decrying socialism even though socialist Europe whips our asses in just about every measure. Better quality of life, better broadband, better medical care, more personal freedom, no torture, rule of law preserved, no wild foreign military adventures bankrupting the state, etc. Europeans are even taller than Americans, showing their superior diet and health. Clearly socialism is proving itself significantly superior to the degenerate robber baron American system of pure greed & corruption (misnamed "globalization" -- it's just Ricardo's robber baron gunboat mercantilism 2.0 but with intellectual property substituted for manufactured goods and the U.S. army susbtituted for the British Imperial Army), as well as to the Chinese model of top-down GAR command-and-control society.

When it comes to economic systems, Americans react like creationists -- no amount of evidence ever suffices to prove that America's cannibalistic stand-on-your-drowning-neighbor's-shoulders-to-keep-your-head-above-water robber baron corrupt economic cronyism isn't the finest economic system ever created in the history of the human race. No matter how Himalayan, no mountain of evidence (say, broadband speeds throughout socialist Europe, or the keiretsu-governed universal corporate health care of Japan, or the chaebol-dominated tech innovation of South Korea, which far outpaces our pitiful American versions) is ever enough to show that the American economic system of filling the streets with starving homeless people and creating the highest infant mortality in the world isn't the only possible economic system for everyone everywhere.

It's really hilarious to watch the contortions Americans go through when you compare the hard evidence on American quality of life vs. Japanese or European quality of life. It's like asking a bigfoot enthusiast for proof. They go berserk. An ever-increasing mountain of evidence from diet, overall health, infant mortality, broadband speeds, digital media adoption, spousal violence rates, murder rates, rapes per capita, number of serial killers per capita (America has 80% of hte world's serial killers) to touchy-feely "how do you feel about your quality of life" surveys show that the savagely cannibalistic robber baron society-wide Ponzi scam ("Get an advanced degree and you'll win the social lottery!" Then watch youself get outsourced and become homeless) implemented in America doesn't produce the best results for society. It's like watching a ufologist page through the Project Blue Book report. Show Americans the evidence about the pervasive failure of their sadistic grotesquely inefficient economic system, and first they get red-faced, then they start to stammer and stutter, and soon they're hurling insults and snarling incoherent curses. America has one of the highest infant mortality rates in the developed world? Unimportant! Vast rings of working poor Americans now live in their cars around all the major American cities because a typical American job no longer pays enough for Americans to afford basic housing? Insignificant! The number of Americans without health insurance has now skyrocketed to 47 million and keeps rising, to the point where people with serious injuries must choose which finger they want reattached after an accident because they don't have money enough to reattach them all? Trivial! Europe and Japan and Korea and China and the little tigers of Asia have all far surpassed America in broadband access and penetration, and the gap keeps widening as America falls farther and farther behind, at 16th globally and dropping fast? Irrelevant! 90% of Americans polled think big business has too much power in American society? Who cares, they're just the great unwashed, blast 'em with pepper spray and order the riot police to beat 'em with truncheons, there's another G8 summit meeting coming up.

Pat said...

Could Dr. Brin's pleasant surprise on the rise of India be related to the fact that English is to India what Latin was to medieval Europe? Which means they're being inclined towards the values of the Anglosphere if they're (the upper classes, at any rate) not actually joining it.

Anonymous said...

While reading Zorgan's spiel on Socialism s it operates in Europe, a sudden thought occurred. Would an increase in taxation levels bring about greater participation in involvement in the political process? People may think: Government is spending a lot of MY money, I want to make sure the right people are in at the top to ensure it is spent well.

Anonymous said...

I don't think so Brendan. Government is already spending a lot of money. They get more of income to do with what they will than I do after you factor in the cost of living. I believe this is true for most of the Country.

I tend to think that most people who aren't interested in politics are those that have sufficient distraction in other things. I think that most people who are interested fall into one of 3 groups.

1) Those interested in Power (Be they fascinated or interested in wielding it.)
2) Those are in need some type of help that they are unable or unwilling to resolve themselves.
3) People with an excess of time on their hands.

From an idealized American viewpoint, the best way to get more people involved is to give them more Power not push them into group two by overtaxing.

Rob Perkins said...

Wow, Zorgon,

That was kind of impressive. A screed written in favor of U.S.-ians not ignoring the good social solutions evident elsewhere, combined with an indignant rant!

My favorite thing Americans ignore, which I'd rather they didn't, is the European solution of a tightly integrated and heavily subsidized rail network, for midrange and short distance transportation needs. Switzerland's rail system is very impressive, that way.

David Brin said...

The American turn away from rails has been ruinous. A calamity that proves that the puppeteers behind big oil and mass media aren't as smart as they think they are. They oppose even no-brainer, blatantly obvious things that should be chosen non-politically, simply as acts of good governance.

Ditto their 20 year reflex to be dragged kicking and screaming into admitting the crisis of climate change. Nothing better proves that their position came to them out of pure luck (possibly combined with raw thievery) rather than the superior brains that they flatter themselves to possess,

Here's an excerpt from Al Gore's Nobel Acceptance Speech. The diverted path we took, with the stolen election of 2000, was not left vs right, but a pure spiral away from American world leadership and confident progress, down a road to dismally insipid kleptocracy.

Oh, for a draft Gore movement with real momentum.

"Sometimes, without warning, the future knocks on our door with a precious and painful vision of what might be. One hundred and nineteen years ago, a wealthy inventor read his own obituary, mistakenly published years before his death. Wrongly believing the inventor had just died, a newspaper printed a harsh judgment of his life's work, unfairly labeling him "The Merchant of Death" because of his invention - dynamite. Shaken by this condemnation, the inventor made a fateful choice to serve the cause of peace.

Seven years later, Alfred Nobel created this prize and the others that bear his name.

Seven years ago tomorrow, I read my own political obituary in a judgment that seemed to me harsh and mistaken - if not premature. But that unwelcome verdict also brought a precious if painful gift: an opportunity to search for fresh new ways to serve my purpose.

Unexpectedly, that quest has brought me here. Even though I fear my words cannot match this moment, I pray what I am feeling in my heart will be communicated clearly enough that those who hear me will say, "We must act."

The distinguished scientists with whom it is the greatest honor of my life to share this award have laid before us a choice between two different futures - a choice that to my ears echoes the words of an ancient prophet: "Life or death, blessings or curses. Therefore, choose life, that both thou and thy seed may live."



Tony Fisk said...

Zorgon'a little 'Amerikaput' rant is spoilt by some broken links (although it's not hard to decipher them!)

A couple of things I will (cherry) pick up on.

- obesity is fast becoming a problem in *all* developed nations. America is a bit of a leader here. (a case of 'over-development')

- housing affordability in Europe has always been an issue (indeed, it is common for families to rent all their lives.. no stigma attached) It may be that the American (and Australian) dream was something only Americans ever aspired to briefly.

That said, I do agree that the 'America is the greatest' spiel does wear a bit thin sometimes.

A little while back I took a lighthearted look at the 'panglossian' multiverse idea (we perceive ourselves as existing in this universe because we died off sooner down other possible paths) and it led me to wonder in shock and awe: 'What did President Gore do wrong!!?')

Looking at his Nobel acceptance speech, I see these words:
...that unwelcome verdict also brought a precious if painful gift: an opportunity to search for fresh new ways to serve my purpose.

Unexpectedly, that quest has brought me here.

Who spoke 'An Inconvenient Truth' in the Gore-verse?

sociotard said...

Who spoke 'An Inconvenient Truth' in the Gore-verse?

Somebody who didn't live in a 10,000 square foot, 20 bedroom, 8 bath house?

Now he has made some energy efficient upgrades to his home to be sure. I don't care. His bloated pad still sucks several times more natural gas and electricity than a normal 2,000 square foot house with no upgrades.

That is precicely my problem with Al Gore. He advocates lots of government intervention because to him legislation is the solution to all our ills, whereas I believe some problems are not the governments place.

If Al Gore wants to be the prophet of the green religion fine, but he needs to live in sackcloth and ashes and lead by example first. Until then he is no different from reading about a 'moral values' repubilcan having weird sex in the airport bathroom.

As Dr. Brin once put it "And this should not affect your credibility? Well tough. It does."

David Brin said...

Oh, nice try.

But in the Goreverse, US science prospered. The proof came out in the natural process of our institutions functioning, unimpeded.

For one brilliant look at that alternate world, see

David Brin said...

My previous remark was for Tony.

Zechariah? That is exactly what the neocons do. They latch onto some dopey mantra and use it to discredit in their own eyes an opponent who would otherwise trounce them overwhelmingly, on points.

As am "inconvenient question", the 20 room mansion is a nice zinger and Gore deserves to both go "ouch" and have to explain. A little. As a DISCREDITING PROOF it is a great big zero.

In fact, it is utterly hypocritical for a movement that has abandoned Conservatism in favor of an utter spasm of shortsighted self-indulgence, to screech at a man who is a MIX of hard work, vision, future-values AND a little self-indulgence.

That sackcloth and ashes thing tops it all.

Fact, had he been president, Jon Stewart and Colbert would have skewered him for the house... but NOT for abandoning all reason, undermining science, abandoning all efforts to kick foreign oil, selling us down the river, and betraying the entire professional caste.

I am a pragmatist. Give me a guy who limits his hypocrisy down around the 10% level, instead of a movement that Swift Boats every opponent, and calls it reason.

Tony Fisk said...

Fair point.

Another possibility is that we needed to see the current paradigms of self-interest at work, so that we got a visceral feel for what not to let happen in future at a time when it could be rigorously documented.

Yet another possibility is that I'm off with the pixies and Pangloss was a deluded nutter.

Meanwhile, Spiders appear to have followed the dolphins, and emigrated to another universe... presumably to end the tale!

Yep! I think that settles it for Pangloss... ('Oi! Stefan! Where are you going?')

David Brin said...

Oh nooooooo!

Patrick Farley has lost his web site? Oh, what a civilization.

Judgement thou art fled to brutish beasts, and men have lost their reason.

Anonymous said...

Huh? I never thought of myself as very Panglossian.

Patrick Farley changed the layout of his blog page a few weeks back (without making a post!), so he's presumably still alive, but it certainly looks like he did not renew the e-sheep registration. He may have burned out, or hit a very rough monetary spot. Either way . . . what a loss. A very smart and talented and emotionally honest artist. (If I ever win the lottery, Farley will be getting FedEx boxes of cash every time he completes a chapter of his comics.)

I'm increasingly uncomfortable with the whole "world cultures in conflict" notion. I think the cultures / meme empires being discussed are a convenient construct with little basis is reality. The problem is, they are a USEFUL construct . . . but useful to the wrong people for the wrong reasons. The labels are too simple to describe what is really up.

Here's a disturbing notion: A hundred years from now, simplicity-seeking pop-historians break down the cultures and nations of our time into Exploitationists (China, The USA) and Adaptationists. And the former are depicted as malicious, corrupt, and deluded as the Nazis.

David Brin said...

Gotcha, Stefan. But remember that your reflex to worry about cultural stereotyping being unjust IS a reflection of neo-enlightenment values. Tolerance and self-reproach as articles of faith.

Note that my CORE point is not about East West or US-China.

It is that there are two CONCEIVABLE general approaches to governance. Either 99% of human cultures had it right and paternalistic elites shall protect the masses... while exploiting them and protecting self-status...

...or the emergent properties of multi-scaled accountability arenas combine with other enlightenment principles, fostering reciprocal criticism based upon individual citizen sovereignty and permanent challenges to elites.

Of course in the flattened world there will be rich folks and elites... and the neo-confucian world will have some rights and social mobility. There's overlap!

Still, truly, this is an either-or choice. At the fundamental level. Because these are attractor states on either side of an unstable cusp.

e-sheep is available! How much would it cost simply to buy it for him for 5 years?

Alex Tolley said...

My first thought is that Paul Kennedy's seminal "The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers" is a better view of empire conflicts and is based on economics, not culture. That doesn't mean that culture isn't a factor in economic growth, it is, but that we need to understand the ability to create economic growth and project power. On this analysis, the religious fundamentalists (e.g. Islamic terrorist groups) will never be more than a nuisance like crime, rather than a globe spanning means of rule unless Islam embraces the tools of capitalism as the west has.

Will China or India succeed the West with their models? Firstly, much of what you say about the West is US centric. Europe, the seat of the Enlightenment is still of comparable size and economic power as the US, but also has retained its professional civil service and not degraded it as in the US. Is it possible for China or India to overtake the West? Let's not be too premature to accept the consensus view that this will happen. Look what happened to the supposed hegemony of Japan. China's growth is based on some very unsustainable practices, and it may well be that China "blows up" as it tries to extend its growth.

The problem with strong hierarchies is that they tend to become very inflexible and resistant to change. Thus one should look to corporations as models of hierarchical states. What we see is that whilst large corporations do survive purely on momentum, they are eventually supplanted by small ones. The business literature explains why this happens, and I think it is almost inevitable.

The disruptive driver of change is technology. On the basis of the last 200 years of history, technological development will remain a disruptor of the status quo. As long as technology can continue to develop, it will be disruptive, destabilizing hierarchies. I think this is antithetical to the Chinese governance model (as it is to the Western model as well IMO).

If anything, I think we will see the rise of smaller states, although this may require the shield of a Pax Americana to flourish, although a Pax China may work too.

Anonymous said...

(Zorgon again, logon gone)

Now I'm going to say some very positive things about America's economic system.

Dr. Brin's point about China's current pollution-based growth rate being unsustainable is of course dead right, but China faces even worse problems in becoming an economic superpower. Namely, Confucianism and the first-born son issue.

Brooks' article should really be called "The Dictatorship of Memorization-Based Tests." It's not obvious how memorization = talent. In fact, the two seem mutually exclusive.

Apple Computer would not have been possible in a Confucian society, because Jobs & Woz would've been told to get lost by Chinese venture capitalists 'cause they were too young. The decerebrated adoration of age & experience embedded in Confucianism proves lethal to schmucks from nowhere who are young and inexperienced but have a great new idea. Yet this is exactly what drives a lot of the tech economy.

When you go down the list, you see company and company that was founded by young kids too brash and too raw to know that what they were trying was impossible. Google, Apple, Microsoft, Venter's own ventures, and on and on. (Notice that most of these involve technology, however. It's a different story in finance, where new innovative financial instruments like CDOs got us into the current subprime mortgage mess. Confucianism would work much better in finance than in the tech sector.)

China has a huge problem with the "first-born son" obsession. The saying goes "Three generations from start to finish" for Chinese businesses. You see it over and over again -- some entrepeneur builds a great business, then he hands it over to his first-born son who isn't remotely qualified to run it purely because of the Confucian requirement that family is sacred and the first-born son must inherit the business...and the business collapses within anther generation. Americans don't suffer from this Confucian confusion. Once an American entrepeneur builds a successful business, we hand it over to professional managers, not the first-born son, and that's big plus for the American economy.

Also, confucianism emphasizes conformity, and here once again America kicks China's ass. American mavericks have proven crucial across the board for kick-starting America's powerhouse economy. As just one example, the delivery company DHL was started by a guy who turned in his thesis proposing the company for his economics degree...only to be told by his professors that his business model was unrealistic, his business plan was crap, and his entire concept was a deluded fantasy. So he went out and created the business himself and became a billionaire.

In China, DHL would never have existed. "The nail that stands out gets pounded down" attitude hamstrings a Confucian society. It's just lethal in a modern global economy.

India's weak spot remains its horrible caste system and its constant denigration and maltreatment of women. Bride-burning remains epidemic in India. They're going to have to fix both these problems in order for India to even think about becoming a major player on the global economic stage.

Dr. Brin seems to think that it's a black/white either/or choice twixt top-down pyramidal social structures and diamond-shaped free market social structures. But the top 1% of Americans by income own or control more than 50% of all American assets, so it's arguable just how much of a diamond shaped social structure America actually has. Contray to the Ponzi-scheme claims of the "globalization" (TRANSLATION: Global robber barony) scammers, "The research shows that the global distribution of income is very unequal and the inequality has not been falling over time. In some regions poverty and income inequality have become much worse. "

Also, look at how many totally unpopular initiatives have been rammed through by America's ruling elite: Most Americans despised the 3/5 clause, but Southern slave-owners forced it into the constitution. Americans hated the gold standard and demanded a move to a silver standard...but that never happened. Americans loathed the idea of entering WW II...yet FDR weaseled us into the war. The Korean War was profoundly unpupular, yet American got forced to fight it. The Viet Nam war requires no discussion. NAFTA is overwhelmingly hated by the bottom 80% of the population, yet it was rammed through. The Patriot Act is intensely loathed, yet it's law. The DMCA, the current "thought crime" bill...initiative after intiiative hated and despised by the bottom 80% of the poulation have always somehow gotten rammed through in America. How is this meaningfully different from the Chinese top-down autocratic system?

Also - America has its own massive GAR economy-wide planning bureacracy, it's called the Pentaqon. U.S. economists deride Japanese keiretsus and Korean chaebols for their "Soviet-style" planning bureacracies as "grossly inefficient" and "overly command-and-control oriented" and "fixated on controlling the next 5 to 10 years of the economy, even though no one can predict that far ahead." But America does the same thing, we just call it the Pentagon budget.
When the Japanese or the Koreans want to develop some new economic initiative like nationwide new cellphone tech, their keiretsus and chaebols pool the resources of many interlocking companies that conspire in massive restraint of trade to set up a planning committee to create the new product or service and dictate how their economies will work 5, 6, 10 years down the road. It often fails and it's often inefficient.

But America does the same thing!
Our entire computer industry came out of the minuteman missile project, which used the increased accuracy made possible by IC-based digital guitdance computers to offset our smaller sized nuclear warheads. The Pentagon plans 5, 6, 10 years ahead, and dumps enormous amounts of money into tech which then stimulates the growth of our economy. And the Pentagon is wrong just as often and it's just as inefficient as the Japanese or Korean economic planning bureaucracies. Look at the huge amount of money wasted in AI, a completely failed research project now as dead as alchemy...yet AI "research" in America still continues to waste vast amounts of money because it was a Frankenstein monster brought to life by vast infusions of Pentagon cash in the 70s and 80s.
Why no research on nuclear-powered electric light rail in America? Because it doesn't have obvious military applications so the Pentagon won't fund it -- but the U.S. government sure funded the hell out of the superhighway system at the behest of the U.S. military. Instead of blaming oil cartels for our lack of American rail transport, I'd blame the Pentagon. Trucks 'n tanks are great for Pentagon battle planners...electric light rail, not so much.

The internet and current CDMA cellphone tech and GPS and most of our other current tech came out of the Pentagon's R&D programs. It's horribly inefficent and it's a top-down command-and-control sytem. Where's the funding for non-military tech like more efficient electric cars, more efficient light rail? There is none because these don't have obvious military applications.
Yet the Pentagon budget dwarfs the budgets of Japan's keiretsus or Korea's chaebols, and the Pentagon is much more inefficient and the corrupt system for awarding Pewntagon contracts, which is basically a revolving door for ex-military-men, is even more inefficient and more corrupt than the corruption-riddlge Japanese or Korean systems. Just read "The Men Who Stared At Goats" for a good look at the sheer amount of wasteful craziness involved in Pentagon planning & R&D.

But the biggest problem with using the Pentagon R&D budget as a substitute for the Japanese keiretsus or Korean chaebols to develop our economy is the fact that when you pump up the Pentagon budget on steroids, "capabilities create intentions," as the Army war college likes to say. In fact, that's the whole raison d'etre of the neocons. We have a big military, so we might as well use it. This is a huge problem. America would be much better off without its giant outsize military sucking our economy dry like a tumor feeding off a cancer patient. But America's stuck in a Catch-22. Ever since WW II, America's economic growth has been largely geared to Pentagon R&D and America now doesn't know how to spur tech innovation and simtulate new business growth without having that Pentagon budget monkey on its back. That's one respect in which Europe and Japan and asia are much better situated economically than America -- they don't need to feed a military monster in order to get DARPANET or integrated circuits or basic research in molecular biology. Craig Venter's earliest funding, remember, came from the Pentagon weapons research division.

Unknown said...

As interesting as neoteny is when applied to human evolution, consider the implications when applied to societal transformation. The same principles apply, accept that the opposite of neoteny (condensation of adult features in the young of descendants) emerge when exploring the appearance of patrifocal societies since their ascendancy almost 6000 years ago.

See for details.