Asian Values

Click for explanation

World Values Survey Cultural Map of the World (2005-2008)

Any real discussion involving the concept has to start with the realization that it’s a profoundly silly term. I mean, what are Asian Values? Other than the “obvious” idea that such a thing exists and is superior to the “moral depravity” of the West, most people find it difficult to enumerate precisely what they are, or how they came to be common across such a range of countries, cultures and religions. Wikipedia suggests that the term came about

“to justify authoritarian regimes in Asia or to defense from the politically designated western concept of ‘human right’, predicated on the belief in the existence within Asian countries of a unique set of institutions and political ideologies which reflected the region’s cultures and histories”.

It then lists a bunch of values which seem rather designed for that purpose.The list is not worth reproducing but largely reduces to the elevation of the collective (family, clan, firm, country) over the individual.

The problem is, calling these “Asian values” obscures the fact that these were almost universal values for thousands of years! Insofar as the West has de-emphasized the collective and emphasized the individual (and this is by no means a universal characteristic of the West, either), this has occurred purely in the last 300-400 years, since the Enlightenment, and particularly coinciding with the sudden growth of their economies during the Industrial Revolution.Perhaps the following is a better description of what most people consider Asian Values:

TYPE *B* folks travel less, and move less often from where they grew up. They are more polite and care more for cleanliness and order. They have more self-sacrifice and self-control, which makes them more stressed and suicidal. They work harder and longer at more tedious and less healthy jobs, and are more faithful to their spouses and their communities. They make better warriors, and expect and prepare more for disasters like war, famine, and disease. They have a stronger sense of honor and shame, and enforce more social rules, which let them depend more on folks they know less. When considering rule violators, they look more at specific rules, and less at the entire person and what feels right. Fewer topics are open for discussion or negotiation.

Type B folks believe more in good and evil, and in powerful gods who enforce social norms. They envy less, and better accept human authorities and hierarchy, including hereditary elites at the top (who act more type A), women and kids lower down, and human and animal slaves at the bottom. They identify more with strangers who share their ethnicity or culture, and more fear others. They are less bothered by violence in war, and toward foreigners, kids, slaves, and animals. They more think people should learn their place and stay there. Nature’s place is to be ruled and changed by humans.

That is simply Robin Hanson’s list of “farmer values”, as opposed to forager values, which (as he notes) maps rather well to the conservative vs liberal divide in most of Western politics. There is nothing uniquely Asian about Asian values. There is nothing inherently wrong about them, either, aside from their tendency to lose out against forager values (do read that post) as people tend to get richer. But any argument -particularly amongst Asians- that attempts to draw its strength from “Asian values” should be well aware of the origin and limitations of the concept.

Disillusioned with Discworld

I just don’t like Granny Weatherwax that much as a main character. She is, first of all, a leader who does not know how to lead. For someone who is described in the text several times as someone who has a phenomenal grasp of “headology” (psychology) she doesn’t really seem to know that much. She doesn’t know how to negotiate with people, she just knows how to manipulate them from above, and in any realistic situation that should present a number of difficulties, but they simply never come up in the books.

Ever noticed how conservative (in a very British nanny sort of way) Terry Pratchett is? Several of his protagonists have “practicality” as their chief virtue. I didn’t mind this in Sam Vimes, because even though he grumbled a lot he always seemed genuinely nice to most people. But with Granny Weatherwax all her kindness is off-stage: this is even lampshaded in the book, when Magrat is complaining (with some reason) about her, Nanny Ogg reminds her of all the nice things she’s done, which we don’t actually get to see.

I re-read “Men at Arms” yesterday because I didn’t want to continue with Maskerade (or study), and the more I think about it, the more Granny Weatherwax seems almost like the anti-Vimes. She bullies everyone else; Vimes gets bullied more often than not, although he finds ways to deal with it.  She knows what other people are thinking but doesn’t seem to know herself particularly well; Vimes is exactly the reverse, although in a less extreme way. None of this is necessarily a reason to dislike the books, of course… I think my biggest problem is simply that I’m (yes, still) too fresh out of high school (which had many similar characters, different only in that they weren’t as smart and couldn’t do magic, thankfully) to be able to appreciate a bullying old woman as a central character.

Little Brother and the War on Authority

Post written at 3:02 AM IST 05/05/2008:

I just finished reading “Little Brother” by Cory Doctorow which he has just released as a Creative Commons download here. In one sitting. 500 pages( .lit version from the site) .From 11 to 2.30.

I’m scared.

Post continued at 12 PM on 06/05/2008:

…That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness…

I’ll start with the key words: gripping, informative, thrilling, “unputdownable”, rousing, must-read,  brilliant,  speculative, furious, action-packed, “scarily realistic”…and hyper-aggressive.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s a great book. For one thing, its one of the very few 150+ page books that I’ve bothered to read in one sitting, holiday or not. It is all the wonderfully short descriptions I gave above. It is also a tad over the top. It deals with several of Doctorow’s pet topics: activism, free speech and censorship, civil liberties, surveillance, the internet, security, technology. In fact, it has several very informative asides and practical tips on all these things. Truly fascinating information, especially if you’re already interested in one or more of the above. Aside from these, the book has a couple of “policy statements” by Doctorow at the beginning, and two extremely interesting afterwords, by Bruce Schneier, the security expert, and Andrew Huang, the (ex) MIT doctoral student who cracked the XBox, on real-life applications/incarnations of the various technological tools that Marcus (or w1n5t0n, or m1k3y, the internet avatars of our brave young hero) uses, among other things.

The only problem is, I think I can be fairly sure that if I showed the exact same thing to the vast majority of my friends, they wouldn’t find them quite so fascinating. In fact, they would probably call it clutter. And while I would disagree with that from a literary point of view, I would find it much harder to convince them that Cory Doctorow didn’t want to wage war on the entire American/western legal system.

Book summary from his site:

Marcus, a.k.a “w1n5t0n,” is only seventeen years old, but he figures he already knows how the system works–and how to work the system. Smart, fast, and wise to the ways of the networked world, he has no trouble outwitting his high school’s intrusive but clumsy surveillance systems.

But his whole world changes when he and his friends find themselves caught in the aftermath of a major terrorist attack on San Francisco. In the wrong place at the wrong time, Marcus and his crew are apprehended by the Department of Homeland Security and whisked away to a secret prison where they’re mercilessly interrogated for days.

When the DHS finally releases them, Marcus discovers that his city has become a police state where every citizen is treated like a potential terrorist. He knows that no one will believe his story, which leaves him only one option: to take down the DHS himself.

A few disorganized comments:

  1. Clearly, the boy is a stylized,teenage, Peter-Parker version (in the sense of having a powerful alter ego 🙂 ) of Doctorow himself. He feels deeply about (see huge list above), he’s very much into computers, alternate reality gaming, cosplay/LARP (Live action role-playing game)and as m1k3y he “leads” a group of rebels and has an enormous fan following.
  2. I found the final, climactic scene of the novel rather ironically resemblant of the similar point in the story in Ayn rand’s iconic “Atlas Shrugged“. Marcus is shackled on a bench, being tortured, and just when it gets really bad-not that the preliminary stages of waterboarding aren’t bad enough- the cavalry arrives, except unlike in Atlas Shrugged it is not the final victory, just more reasonable captors.
  3. Doctorow indicated that he wasn’t taking a firm stand on this by making Marcus partially repent, but this raises interesting questions on  the exact nature of “civil disobedience“.  Is it still disobedience when you’re not just disobeying the laws, but making sure that other people are caught for it? Marcus and his friends start their more aggressive activities when they decide to “jam” people, by making it look as if they had been places/done things they hadn’t done, by scrambling their “arphids” (RFIDS, or radio frequency identification tags, one of the many surveillance devices used in the book that are available on store-shelves today).
  4. I acknowledge that this story is set a little into the future, but I still find it completely bewildering that there are no adult voices of dissent till the very end,  when evidence of actual torture comes to light. How is it that they simply do not care about the very obvious gradual theft of their civil liberties?

There’s more, but I’m too full, too tired and too pissed off that I can’t download the full driver for the wifi on my laptop before the connection resets to continue. I’ll leave you with Dan Gillmor’s comments:

“Little Brother” sounds an optimistic warning. It extrapolates from current events to remind us of the ever-growing threats to liberty. But it also notes that liberty ultimately resides in our individual attitudes and actions. In our increasingly authoritarian world, I especially hope that teenagers and young adults will read it — and then persuade their peers, parents and teachers to follow suit.

Go here for my review of Doctorow’s Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom.  I would normally direct you to the wikipedia entry for Little Brother, but it has far less than what I’ve written here, incomplete as it is.  Go to http://www.boingboing.net or http://www.craphound.com if you want to know more, they have a lot more info, quotes and so on. Happy reading!

Happiness and the Political Spectrum

US Centric like most of the data anywhere on the net, but worth reading nonetheless.

Conservatives Are Happier Than Liberals. Discuss. – Freakonomics – Opinion – New York Times Blog

• In 2004, 44 percent of respondents who said they were “conservative” or “very conservative” said they were “very happy,” versus just 25 percent of people who called themselves “liberal” or “very liberal.” (Note that this comparison uses unweighted data — when the data are weighted, the gap is 46 percent to 28 percent.)

• Adults on the political right are only half as likely as those on the left to say, “At times, I think I am no good at all.” They are also less likely to say they are dissatisfied with themselves, that they are inclined to feel like a failure, or to be pessimistic about their futures.

• It doesn’t matter who holds political power. The happiness gap between conservatives and liberals has persisted for at least 30 years. Indeed, the difference was greater some years under Bill Clinton than it was under George W. Bush. Democrats may very well win the presidency in 2008, and no doubt many liberals will enjoy seeing conservatives grieving out about that — but the data say that conservatives will still be happier people than liberals.

Several obvious reasons for the correlation spring to mind… conservatives tend to be richer and more successful socially (the obvious reason for that being, liberal economics stress graded taxes which place disproportionate burden on the rich;which is why, as a libertarian I’m “conservative” on most economic issues. However, there are a lot of studies that say the opposite,too, by considering the “social” liberals purely as liberals) and it’s fairly accepted that increased wealth /standard of living makes you happier. Then again, as one commenter mentioned, ignorance is bliss, and conservatives have a lower average IQ than liberals(its true, look it up! Also the surprisingly large gap between believers and atheists…at least in countries where they don’t force you to be an atheist, like China and the erstwhile USSR.) Another interesting take:

Interesting topic. Without delving into it too much, I would say conversatives have more reason to SAY they are happy, not that they ARE happy. If we assume most conservatives are also Christians, it is seen as bad form for a Christian to not be happy. On the other hand, liberals are honest enough to admit that things could be better.

Also,

My first thought is that by definition a conservative is someone who resists changes to the status quo. If they’d rather stick with the current system, then they must be at least satisfied with it, if not happy. Conversely, a progressive or liberal, is typically a view point where they are dissatisfied with the status quo, and would like some kind of change. So a study on happiness of the two view points seems like it does nothing more than confirms the general definition.

which also seems to make sense.Similarly,

Perhaps conservatives are more likely to believe that their path is self-made and a result of their own efforts, and therefore more likely to be happy with the results, whereas liberals tend to believe that society/government should be taking care of their needs/wants and therefore they’ve been “screwed over” and tend to be less happy?

and sadly enough, I concede the point.

I would like to see a correlation between levels of happiness and the political distribution along the
Nolan chart, which sees politics in 2 dimensions rather than 1 dimension. If anyone bothered to go through that Wikipedia entry on libertarianism, this is the standard chart that plots conservative and liberal viewpoints on 2 axes, social and economic. I think it would make a considerable difference if you found the marginal distribution from that rather than from the more direct survey. Also, something that tests happiness based on something other than self-reporting, to make sure you’re measuring real (as opposed to forced) happiness.

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