Only Discriminate – four versions of justice

“We do not support the notion of discrimination. But you have to distinguish between people.”

These were the words of the Archbishop of Westminster in response to the Pope’s comments on the proposed equality legislation in the UK (reported by the Guardian).

Note the slipperiness of language. In its non-pejorative sense, discrimination does mean distinguishing between people or things, but the more popular usage makes discrimination a thing to be discouraged: distinguishing with the aim of unjustly favouring some over others. I am discriminating in the movies I watch. There is no question of injustice here. The Glenn Miller Story is clearly the greatest movie of all time. But if I discriminate in the people I offer jobs to, it’s reasonable to ask what my criteria are, and whether they are just or unjust.

The problem is that we have four broad versions of justice, not one, and these versions are at odds with one another. In fact they define themselves in relation to the others, so that my version of justice is specifically not yours. Continue reading “Only Discriminate – four versions of justice”

The decline of civilization – sudden or gradual?

Thomas Cole The Course of Empire 1836: Consummation
'empires are complex systems'

Quick, quick, slow – the dance steps of collapse

What kinds of stories are we telling one another these days about the fall of civilizations? The idea that the decline of a civilization is without narrative causality is itself a narrative. This is the unacknowledged ideology of historian Niall Ferguson’s recent piece for Foreign Affairs. Here Ferguson abandons the typical causality of historians and opts for a different account, based on complex systems theory. Continue reading “The decline of civilization – sudden or gradual?”

Fresh Thinking on Systemic Risk

Tyrol danger signFresh thinking on systemic risk:

Levin and Sugihara on the ecology of finance

George Sugihara at the Resilience Alliance

complex systems: ecology for bankers

New dimensions for understanding systemic risk

extending non-linear analysis to short ecological time series

Image credit: Flickr/Katz2110

Culture and the Science of Climate Change

George Monbiot at the Guardian has finally begun to take account of Cultural Theory as a possible explanation for why people either believe or ‘refuse’ to believe in climate change. He cites an article in Nature by Dan Kahan of the Yale Law School Cultural Cognition Project.

Prof Kahan says:

‘we need a theory of risk communication that takes full account of the effects of culture on our decision-making.’

However, Monbiot claims the cultural biases in CT don’t fit his particular case, since he sees himself as an Egalitarian who has unwillingly been put in the invidious situation of defending scientists against their detractors, many of whom are themselves Egalitarians.

But a closer look at Monbiot’s article reveals that he has in mind an ‘ideal type’ of scientist, who precisely fits the Egalitarian conception of how scientists should behave. There are three key characteristics.

  • First, Egalitarian scientists should do no evil. Weaponising anthrax is out, as is the development of terminator genes in food crops. A non-Egalitarian argument can be made for both these activities, but Monbiot isn’t interested in that.
  • Second, Egalitarian scientists should produce freely accessible knowledge. Locking it away in pay-to-access journals isn’t on, and all well-meaning scientists should act together to end the monopolisation of knowledge the journal publishers have created for themselves (actually I think it’s a cartel, but we’ll let that pass).
  • Third, and most importantly, the kind of scientific knowledge Monbiot as an Egalitarian is especially interested in is what he thinks scientists should be producing impartially: hard evidence of major threats to civilization. A fact, on this view, is something that has the power to bring the group closer together and promote group behaviour. What self-evidently guarantees the veracity of such facts is the classic Egalitarian resort to ‘consensus’.

Taken together, these features of ideal science make it clear that the Egalitarian worldview describes Monbiot’s position to a tee.

He asks how it is possible to persuade people who just don’t want to be persuaded – and has no answer. The answer, from a cultural Theory perspective, is fairly straightforward.

People and institutions with different cultural biases create, fund, support and pay attention to four very different types of evidence. What matters then is to produce and shape a variety of evidence, not only the Egalitarian evidence that Monbiot privileges as the only kind of truth.

Here are some suggestions: Continue reading “Culture and the Science of Climate Change”

“People tend to conform their factual beliefs to ones that are consistent with their cultural outlook”

…according to law professor Don Braman, that is. NPR has an interview with members of the Cultural Cognition Project, who have been demonstrating experimentally that people’s climate change beliefs are strongly linked to their worldview.

It’s intuitively obvious that our views, opinions and beliefs are linked together a bit like constellations in the night sky, but when it comes to working out what exactly it is that connects them, it’s quite hard to come up with a viable answer. Now it seems the pattern is becoming clearer.

The Google Dilemma Part 3

In this short series of posts on the dilemma Google finds itself in with Chinese censorship, I have attempted to question the idea that it’s all about a clash of national cultures.

In particular, the very idea of a national culture has been called to account for itself. I’ve argued that Grid-group cultural theory offers some insights into the kind of lifting work the concept of the nation is supposed to do for us. It also helps explain why some might not like the idea of national cultures.

The Other Gardener took me to task for apparently supporting censorship. My rely can serve as a conclusion:

I support the line of Amnesty International on Chinese censorship of dissidents, but I’m trying to examine my own biases. This isn’t an idle speculation: we all want the world to be a particular way (in my case, freedom of speech), and find it hard to come to terms with justifications of other ways of being. Is it reasonable to argue that different countries just have different cultures and that this extends to different censorship regimes?  The Universal Declaration of Human Rights claims to be, well, universal. Is any regime exempt? If so, how so? If not, how not? If Google is having trouble with the concept of free speech via Chinese gmail accounts, why is this? How does the ‘universal’ nature of human rights get negotiated with a government that only recognises human rights with a Chinese spin ? Can we even talk like this? Is there anything distinctly and appropriately Chinese in internet censorship, or is that just special pleading?

Conversely, where does the idea of universal human rights gain traction? I’ve argued that this can be seen as an Egalitarian, or Individualist, weak-grid approach to national differences. By understanding this, perhaps the international work of groups like Amnesty can be strengthened in a small way.

To shine the spotlight back on the US, we could ask how this ‘freedom loving’ nation ends up executing so many of its prisoners (and how it comes to have so many prisoners in the first place). Is there something peculiarly and appropriately American that makes the penal regime so distinctive (the US along with China, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and Iran carry out more than 90% of all executions)? If we are all expected to be free with our speech, as in the US, are we also supposed to be free with our sentencing to death, as in the US?
Cross-cultural theory seems to assume that we would want to fit in with another nation’s patterns of social activity in order to make our business relationships work better. But what if we really don’t agree with those patterns? I’m concerned that to naturalise national cultures is to concede too much, and that we would be wrong to suggest there’s something Chinese about censorship and something American about lethal injections. But if we don’t make national comparisons, what kinds of comparisons can we make instead? That’s where grid-group cultural theory comes in.

Read Part 1

Part 2

excursus: are the guardians of national boundaries beginning to look pathetic?

References

Abbott, T (1990) ‘The real issue is the changing face our society’, The Australian, 31 May , quoted in Adam Jamrozik (2002) From Lucky Country to Penal Colony: How Politics of Fear Have Changed Australia . Keynote Address to ‘Refugees and the Lucky Country’ Forum, RMIT, Melbourne 28-30 November 2002 , accessed at http://www.tasa.org.au/docs/public/2002/281102%20From%20Lucky%20Country%20to%20Penal%20Colony.pdf

Ailon, Galit (2008). Mirror, mirror on the wall: Culture’s Consequences in a value test of its own design. The Academy of Management Review, 33(4):885-904. Accessed at http://aom.metapress.com/openurl.asp?genre=article&eissn=1930-3807&volume=33&issue=4&spage=885

Delaney, Rob and Ari Levy (2010) China Bosses Davos as Nobody Discusses What Happened to Google. Bloomberg Online. Accessed at http://www.bloomberg.com/apps/news?pid=20601087&sid=aUvrtIRc80JA

Foner, Eric (1999) The Story of American Freedom. New York: W.W.Norton

Hofstede, Geert (1997) Cultures and Organizations: Software of the Mind, New York: McGraw-Hill.

Hofstede, Geert (2005). Cultures and organizations: software of the mind (Revised and expanded 2nd ed.). New York: McGraw-Hill.

Hofstede, Geert (2009) AMR Dialogue: Who Is The Fairest Of Them All? Galit Ailon’s Mirror. The Academy of Management Review, Volume 34, Number 3 (July)

Marcus, Aaron and Emilie West Gould (2002) Cultural Dimensions and Global Web User-Interface Design: What? So What? Now What? AIGA Archives [October 11]. Accessed at http://www.amanda.com/resources/hfweb2000/hfweb00.marcus.html

McSweeney, Brendan (2002) Hofstede’s Model Of National Cultural Differences And Their Consequences: A Triumph Of Faith – A Failure Of Analysis Human Relations, Vol. 55, No. 1, [January], pp. 89-118. Accessed at http://www.it.murdoch.edu.au/~sudweeks/b329/readings/mcsweeney.doc

Mill, John Stuart (1869) The Subjection of Women. Fourth Edition. New York: D. Appleton and Company.

Prasad, S. Benjamin, Michael J. Pisanib and Rose M. Prasad (2008) New criticisms of international management: An analytical review International Business Review Volume 17, Issue 6, December 2008, Pages 617-629.

Thompson, M and A. Wildavsky (1986) A cultural theory of information bias in organisations. Management Studies 23 (3), 273-286.

Woodrow, Alan (1998) The Church and Human Rights. The Tablet (January 3). Accessed at http://www.thetablet.co.uk/article/6569

The Google Dilemma, Part 2

What kinds of organisations require there to be nations, complete with identifiable and distinctive national characteristics? In the past we knew we’d traveled because the people around us spoke a different language, or wore different clothes and ate different food. But these differences were often more regional than national.  For many purposes, that’s not enough. Isn’t there something about a nation’s respect for authority, or its approach to gender differences, or view of time – the long-term and the short term? What kinds of circumstance would lead to a need for greater categorization of national differences?

Hierarchical, Individualist and Egalitarian: contested views of nationhood

The very concept of the unified territory is strongly Hierarchical in origin (specifically, it is ‘strong grid’) – it is the king who unites the nation, under God. And it is the king whose task it is to demonstrate by conquest that in the divinely ordained hierarchy of nations, his nation ranks first. The early nation state is really an extension of the power of the monarchy. The modern version of this, that political legitimacy derives from a people, underpins the modern bureaucratic nation state, characterised by a cascade of checks and balances and a distinctly poor track record at making binding international agreements that don’t merely reinforce the established league-table of nations. Such institutions as monarchies and parliaments will be likely to attempt to naturalise national identity by identifying ‘innate’ national characteristics and establishing institutions that are ‘national’. [A national football team is a construction from the late 19th Century; supporting it is supposed to come naturally]. Every international gathering or institution is an opportunity to assert national supremacy.

The idea that national characteristics are to be ignored, or don’t exist, or are constructed, and not natural, is an anti-hierarchical one (specifically, ‘weak grid’). A non-hierarchical approach will regard evidence of national cultures not as information to be acted on but as noise to be filtered out and ignored.

There are two distinct versions of this filtering out of national difference. Continue reading “The Google Dilemma, Part 2”

Are the guardians of national boundaries beginning to look pathetic?

Golden Genie by Phototacular/Flickr

Commenting on the post about the Google Dilemma, The Other Gardener said:

“There is very little that can be said to be “essential about national boundaries” now that the genie is out of the lamp. I think the guardians of these boundaries, including the academics, will always lag behind. They are already beginning to look pathetic. The nation, as they used to say, ain’t got a chance.”

Well, that’s my suspicion too, but I’m not sure what Genie has escaped. Do we really look less divided-by-nation than we did, say in the colonial period, when there were far fewer nation states? Interesting that in the last 60 years nation states have proliferated, while some other markers of nationality, particularly languages, have collapsed and died. The concept of the nation is certainly shifting, but seemingly not going away. In many respects the concept of national boundaries has become firmer, more worried over,  than at any time since WWII.

In defence of those lagging academics, they’ve been talking about ‘globalization’ for decades. Also: world risk society (Beck), world-society (Luhmann), world systems theory (Wallerstein), world polity (Meyer), the Cosmopolitan Condition (Beck again, who mentions all these) and on and on.  Academics keep announcing the transformation of the nation concept, and the nation just keeps reinventing itself.

One way of conceptualising the rift between Google and the Chinese Government might be to look at it in relation to terms used by John Urry (and Manuel Castells’):  regions, networks, scapes and flows. Here a regional configuration (China) is renegotiating its influence when engaged with a network configuration (Google/ the Internet). Or perhaps, it is rather that one region/network (the US/Google) is being disrupted by another region/network (China/security attacks) in terms of disrupting flows (censorship, spying, denial of service attacks etc). To use Urry’s terms, internal Chinese dissent might be seen as a kind of fluid that the scape of the Internet, with Google as a significant node attempting to be a hub, makes global. Either way, it seems the traditional nation-based regional version of power politics (in this case between the US and China) is being disrupted and re-configured by the emergence of new networks, with new nodes and new kinds of fluids with new kinds of flows.

Like that genie escaping from the lamp, these flows are unexpected and exceedingly hard to contain.

Thanks for the comment. Look out for the next installment, in which we’ll consider which kinds of cultural bias might favour nations and nationhood –  and which might not.

Image: Golden Genie by Phototacular/Flickr

The Google Dilemma. National Differences and Cross-Cultural Theory

“Good enough for our transatlantic friends … but unworthy of the attentions of practical or scientific men.”

Good enough for our transatlantic friends?

This was the verdict of a British Parliamentary Committee , on the implications of Thomas Edison’s new electric lamp, which had been patented in the US in 1879.

In the gloom of the gas-light they couldn’t see the significance of Edison’s invention. But equally they misunderstood national differences. If the lamp was ‘good enough’ for American use, why would that change just by crossing an ocean? And if it really had no ‘practical or scientific’ worth, why wouldn’t practical or scientific Americans be able to spot that flaw just as well as their British counterparts?

I’m exploring differences across national boundaries, specifically with reference to Geert Hofstede’s Cross-Cultural Theory, which is explored most fully in his book, Cultures and Organizations. Software of the Mind. I’m doing so to try to discover whether the recent argument between Google and the Chinese Government on censorship comes down to cultural misunderstanding, or something else.

Continue reading “The Google Dilemma. National Differences and Cross-Cultural Theory”