MissIzzy on Traditional Values and Economic Status of Nations

MissIzzy always has something interesting to say, and this time, what caught my attention was her thoughts in a post titled Traditionally bad is the Contemporary Good.A sampling:

Countries that suffer from the yoke of traditional values and survival ethics are the worse off (Nigeria, Parkistan, Ghana) Countries that are extremely secular-rational but are on the extreme end of the survival/self-expression dimension, on the survival side (the bit characterized by low levels of subject well being, report relatively poor health etc.) make somewhat about twice as much in GNP per capita (and are some of the most progressive nations in the world -China, Vietnam) than countries on the extreme end of the traditional value scale.

The need to think conciously about survival, characterized by low trust levels, low levels of subject well being etc. is apparently not as paralyzing as the need to be responsible for the moral behaviour of other people. Certain things about society are definitely the business of everyone, like adequate education and a good healthcare system, but the moral and idealogical behaviour of the individual, is not.

Most of the protesting commenters are responding that America is a hotbed of religious fanaticism and the world economic leader right now, offering this as disproof of her idea.

But there’s another “traditional bad” that America has embraced and turned into a good, and that’s racial diversity. America may have lots of religious-nut hillbillies, but it also harbours some very different communities, from Huntsville, Alabama to Cambridge, Massachusetts, where highly trained, highly creative people from all over the world gather because of the opportunities offered to them working in their fields for more money (and in some cases lower taxes).

In fact, the (North) American misperception about Asians and Indians being naturally “smart” and “good at math” has a lot to do with this; a lot of East and South Asian immigrant families highly value education and especially science/technology-related careers, and a considerable number of people emigrating to America from such places as China and India are trained in technical fields like computer programming, engineering, IT, as well as hard sciences.

(Not that this brain drain on the rest of the world is necessarily a good thing for the rest of the world, or that it gets used to its maximum potential: a friend of mine who used to work in an immigration-law office told me Indian computer programmers were still relatively easily able to get into Canada, but so many of them ended up driving taxis or working in factories; meanwhile, it’s harder for doctors to emigrate to Canada despite a real shortage of medical professionals.)

In other words, it’s not whether or not a nation has a strongly religious majority or minority… it’s about whether one homogenous group is able to establish a cultural regime of traditional values that can realistically dominate the mainstream. I find in Korea, there’s a lot of Christian fundamentalist-like religion, but that aside from North Korea, the real threat to further economic development and stability, especially long-term, is the educationally-entrenched cult of the one-nation/one-blood notion of the society.


It’s a complicated question, but anyway, it seems to me that nations in which survival concerns dominate over so-called traditional values, are also likely to be more diverse societies. Diversity introduces a bigger tendency to distrust, and more (cheap) rationalization fodder for ripping others off, if those others are really actually “others”.

There’s probably more to it, too… the likelihood that heterogenous societies are less likely to question the kinds of values that hold a society back, they’re less likely to start thinking out of a societally-prescribed box (whereas diverse societies have bunches of people thinking inside different boxes, and then your boxes start to fall apart), and so on.

But anyway, Izzy’s critics are missing the point that even if big religious subcultures do exist in America, they don’t really dominate the nation totally (though them seem to be politically right now), and they can’t feasibly do so, because of the inherent diversity of America… because, imagine America right now if the religious nutters could run the whole show, culture and politics and all? It’d be totally different.

And it goes without saying that diversity is one of those traditional bads that Izzy was talking about.

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