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?


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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. 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

Climate Disruption as policy: wisdom or folly?

by Rarbol2004Could it be in China’s interests to ignore climate chance?

According to the Danish ‘skeptical environmentalist’ Bjorn Lomborg:

Climate models show that for at least the rest of this century, China will actually benefit from global warming. Warmer temperatures will boost agricultural production and improve health. The number of lives lost in heatwaves will increase, but the number of deaths saved in winter will grow much more rapidly: warming will have a more dramatic effect on minimum temperatures in winter than on maximum temperatures in summer.
There are few arguments for China and India to commit to carbon caps – and compelling reasons for them to resist pressure to do so.”

Now to say that Lomborg has been accused of playing fast and loose with statistics would be an understatement, so there is no special reason to trust his unreferenced ‘climate models’. However, commentators at the Ecologist Magazine, hardly Lomborg’s best friends, have said more or less the same thing, and added Canada as a potential beneficiary of climate change. So let’s just suppose Chinese, Indian and possibly Russian officials and politicians are indeed thinking along these lines. After all, disruption and change always create opportunities for someone, somewhere. Would it be possible to develop policy on the basis that climate change will substantially alter the balance of environmental blessings between the world’s nations? In other words, could rising temperatures shift competitive advantage to certain nations? Of course it would be possible to develop policy on this basis. But would it be wise? Continue reading