Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Is Chris Dillow Chinese?

From David Brooks' column in the New York Times:

"This is a divide that goes deeper than economics into the way people perceive the world. If you show an American an image of a fish tank, the American will usually describe the biggest fish in the tank and what it is doing. If you ask a Chinese person to describe a fish tank,the Chinese will usually describe the context in which the fish swim.

These sorts of experiments have been done over and over again, and the results reveal the same underlying pattern. Americans usually see individuals; Chinese and other Asians see contexts."


Brooks goes on to describe how there is a continuum and we Brits are right at the individualist end with the Americans.

It sounds like we are culturally hard wired to what Chris would, I think, describe as an egoist way of understanding the world; the belief that our individual choices, actions and qualities are a crucial determinant of group success. Previously he has described how he would like his epitaph to read "he made no difference." This might make sense to someone from a more collectivist culture. Brooks describes how "[people in collectivist societies] tend to underestimate their own skills and are more self-effacing when describing their contributions to group efforts."

By contrast, Anglos are apparently disposed to want to make all the difference, and believe that they can do so effectively.

All this creates a conundrum for someone like Chris who combines a taste for liberal policy with a dislike of the kind of egoism that we are predisposed towards. Individualistic (egoistic) countries aren't just generally more prosperous, they also "tend to put rights and privacy first". If it is our sense of self-importance that makes us more protective of individual rights then are our inflated egos worth the various social ills Chris blames them for?

1 comment:

KMcC said...

you should read the post at Language Log on this subject. Brooks seems to have form when it comes to this sort of guff.