Key Disputed Values

Some like to paint world history as an epic conflict between deeply divergent visions of civilization, which come down to disputes over a few key values.  But if so, just what are those key disputed values?  For many decades, our best data on this key value variation has been the World Value Survey:

The WVS grew out of its eurocentric origins to embrace 42 countries in the 2nd wave, 54 in the 3rd wave and 62 in the 4th wave. … The questionnaires from the most recent waves have consisted of about 250 questions, … with an average in the 4th wave of about 1330 interviews per country and a worldwide total of about 92000 interviews. …

A number of variables were condensed [by factor analysis] into two dimensions of cultural variation (known as “traditional v. secular-rational” and “survival v. self-expression”), and on this basis the world’s countries could be mapped into specific cultural regions. The WVS claims: “These two dimensions explain more than 70 percent of the cross-national variance in a factor analysis of ten indicators”.

Here is a map of the world using those two main value factors:

0valuemap

Note that similar nations are grouped together, with rich nations to the upper right and poor nations to the lower left.  Note also that the main antagonists of the most recent global conflict, the Cold War, are nearly at opposite sides; Russia and its allies are to the upper left while USA and its allies are to the lower right.  Clearly this 2D space represents key value disputes.  But what values exactly?

Here are the projections of some particular value answers into this same 2D factor space:

91 Qs small

WVS leaders’ views on the key value disputes are found in their diagram labels: “survival vs. well-being” and “traditional vs. rational-legal.”  But we need not accept their labels.  Given many data points in a high dimensional vector space, factor analysis strongly suggests the most informative subspaces to consider, but says less about the best axes to consider, and nothing about the best axis names.

Now we have good reasons to think that values change in response to wealth.  And while wealth should also change in response to values, we have much less reason to expect small value changes to translate immediately into small wealth changes – it is growth rates that should respond to values.  Yet national value positions have been moving steadily to the upper right as nations have become richer.  So it seems pretty clear that differing wealth is a key factor driving values differences.

Given that one factor is the lower left to upper right wealth factor, the other factor is an upper left to lower right factor, stretching from Russia to the USA.  But what is the essence of that factor?  It should make sense of the particular value positions in the diagram, for poor nations toward the lower left, and for rich nations toward the upper right.   With that in mind, what do the particular values toward the Russia side have in common?  What about those toward the USA side?

I’ll take my cue from a key value difference postulated in Strauss and Howe’s Generations: an “inward” vs. “outward” focus.  It seems that USA side values make sense when the priority is making families and personal relations work well, while Russian side values make sense when the priority is larger community health and threats.

Religious commitment, pride, a work ethic, and having many kids makes sense for families struggling against poverty, while families seeking comfort and happiness from their wealth prefer leisure, health, ecology, sexual freedom, and tolerance.  Poor communities struggling against outsiders want solidarity and (they think) central authority, with each family carrying its own load, even if no one is happy.  Rich but still competing communities attend more to politics, achievement, determination, and thrift.

Rich communities achieve more when divorce and abortion limit the harm of volatile families, while poor communities can’t afford such breakups.  Poor competing communities can’t afford arbitrary cultural barriers to getting cash or tech, but such arbitrary restrictions hurt a family less if its neighbors are similarly restricted.

So why would Russia side nations focus more on community, while USA side nations focus more on family?  My story is much like that Diamond’s Guns Germs and Steel: geography made some places more vulnerable to invasion.  The central Asia history of invasion after invasion is deeply ingrained in their culture, while island and geographically peripheral cultures were less obsessed by it. England was relatively safe, and the Americans had few invasions after European colonization. Cultures where invasion was less an issue tended to evolve family oriented values, while cultures where invasion was more common focused more on larger community solidarity.

So there you have it: I suggest the two main value disputes in the world are rich vs. poor and family vs. community priorities.  It is ironic that the cultures like Russia with values focused on competing against other communities lost the last big community conflict, the Cold War.  Have China, Korea, Japan, etc. learned their lesson about over-centralization, enough to win the next big conflict?

If, as I have suggested, within roughly a century whole brain emulations appear and induce rapidly falling wages, world values may fall to the poor folk values of the lower left in the above diagrams.  On the other hand, there should be strong selection among em candidates for those with the most productive values, and it is not so clear what exactly those will be.

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  • William H. Stoddard

    Looking at the chart of nations, I don’t see any clearly defined “Muslim nations” or “Near Eastern” or “Arabian” cluster. The few nations that fit that category are labeled “South Asian,” but there aren’t enough of them to create a strong sense of cultural location. That’s a more important omission now than it may have been back when the study was done. Would we get a distinctive region for countries like Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Jordan, Syria, the UAE, Yemen, Egypt, Algeria, and Morocco? Where would it be?

  • http://www.hopeanon.typepad.com Hopefully Anonymous

    Did I overlook them, or are West Indian nations oddly missing from the graph?

  • Torben

    Interesting suggestion on the invasions, but many countries’ left-right positions seem not to support it (Israel-Jordan, Denmark-Switzerland, Portugal-Austria-West Germany, India-Poland, etc.).

  • Mikk

    This type of 2-dimensionalvvisualization, dont you think it exaggerates differences and downplay similarities? I browsed the survey, questions and answers, read them, and in this way they seemed more similar…

  • Robert Speirs

    The positions seem to have been assumed a priori and the “calculation” of the values juggled to give a result that fit the preconceptions. Putting “survival” and “well-being” on the opposite ends of a spectrum is simply laughable.

  • Bill

    Looks like if we keep doing the family values stuff we’ll look like Latin America, rather than Europe.

  • Jay

    I couldn’t help noticing that “not happy” is a value (far left, above center). That seems very odd.

    It seems a massive misunderstanding to say that the Confucian countries emphasize “secular – rationalist” values over “traditional” values. Putting Israel in “Protestant Europe” is also a bit odd.

    I suspect this study of hammering the facts into a box supplied by the theory.

    • Doug S.

      Well, it’s not that odd; Israel is essentially a Western nation that happens to be displaced geographically. It might as well be European.

      • Jay

        The Israel thing is only a bit odd, but there are enough Russian Jews there that it’s still questionable.

        The other oddity I noticed it that “abortion OK” is high on the secular-rational axis and opposed to traditional values. Ummm, it depends on which traditions you’re referring to. In China (to a lesser extent, India), abortion has been used on a wide scale for sex selection. The desire for sons over daughters owes far more to tradition than reason. In fact, the practice worries many secular rationalists because societies with large numbers of unmarried males have historically been very aggressive.

      • http://www.joshuafox.com Joshua Fox

        Well, it’s not that odd; Israel is essentially a Western nation that happens to be displaced geographically. It might as well be European.

        There may be values resembling Western countries, but that is a posteriori for this study. Half the Jews come from or have ancestors who came Muslim countries, about 1/5 came recently from Russia, some of the remainder have Ultra-Orthodox views that are not “protestant”, liberal or “Western,” and 1/5 of the total are Arab and non-Jewish.

    • http://meteuphoric.wordpress.com/ Katja Grace

      Why does putting Israel in protestant Europe suggest hammering of facts? When grouped that way it is one of the few countries that lands on the graph away from its group.

      • http://www.hopeanon.typepad.com Hopefully Anonymous

        I’ve thought more about this post, and I lean in the camp that there’s hammering of facts going on, although I think that position has been poorly articulated here so far.

        I think these type of social science empirical models are extremely susceptible to posture capture and where to situate Israel seems to me to be a classic set-up for nontransparent posturing to manufacture coalition identties.

        Still I think the ambition is important: making global value maps. I’d just like the best empiricism to win out over the best myths to capture leading empiricists and their audience constituents.

        Yes, we’re disproportionately white, male, straight, geeky, english speaking and a lot of us are anglo and ashkenazi. Now how do we create the best models without nontransparent deformations due to being captured by a conflicting motivation of subpopulation trait status maximization (either ours or subpopulations ours are in coordination with) -or, without reacting to posts like this by farcically overreaching in the other direction?

      • http://hanson.gmu.edu Robin Hanson

        I think such accusations of fraud should come with a bit more detail than “these type of methods are susceptible” – what exactly are you accusing them of doing? They actually publish all their data and you can reconstruct these maps from that data yourself if you like. I’d think with that sort of transparency it would be up to you to take their data and show the fraud you think they’ve done.

      • http://www.hopeanon.typepad.com Hopefully Anonymous

        Prof. Hanson,
        Well, you may be raising the barrier to my participation too high if you think I should incorporate those explanations and analyses into my post.
        It seems like you’re saying I shouldn’t even have made my post without meeting that higher participation barrier. Your posture is noted.

      • http://www.hopeanon.typepad.com Hopefully Anonymous

        This is a low-hanging, corny point, but the selection of +y axis vs. -y axis and +x axis vs. -x axis has a hierarchy manufacture (or hierarchy norms deference) element to it, it seems to me.

    • http://entitledtoanopinion.wordpress.com TGGP

      I don’t think Israel is actually being called a Protestant country. It is inside the “Catholic Europe” blob, but is given a different color, as Greece is. I don’t think they did that because Greece seems more “Protestant” than is warranted by its position, rather I think the color simply indicates that neither Greece nor Israel is Protestant.

      For my own part, I don’t have a problem labeling Israel a European country. Samuel Huntington did not include it in his “Western” civilization. It was founded by Europeans and with a government similar to those of western rather than eastern europe (even if that’s where many Israelis emigrated from).

      What seems odd to me is that Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan are put in the green south asian blob rather than red ex-communist (or orthodox) blob, when they clearly fit closer to the reds and are by no means part of the subcontinent.

      • http://entitledtoanopinion.wordpress.com TGGP

        Forgot to make explicit that I disagree with Huntington and don’t think Israel constitutes its own distinct civilization. I’m skeptical of his other example, Ethiopia, as well.

  • http://hanson.gmu.edu Robin Hanson

    There really aren’t that many ways to fudge this calculation, to put each nation or question where someone wants it – most of this structure you see in these diagrams comes directly from the data.

    • Jay

      It’s clear that they’re seeing something in the data, but what?

      This is survey data. We know from other studies that the results of a survey are often sensitive to the exact wording of the questions. I notice that countries with related languages seem to be clustered on the map. I have no idea how you would separate the effects of translating the questions from the effects of different cultural values (without limiting the survey to speakers of a single language, which would introduce distortions of its own).

  • Jackson

    Religious commitment, pride, a work ethic, and having many kids makes sense for families struggling against poverty, while families seeking comfort and happiness from their wealth prefer leisure, health, ecology, sexual freedom, and tolerance.

    Actually ‘their wealth’ is largely, if not primarily, dependant on exploitation of the likes of people struggling against poverty i.e. in China, in sweatshops (those less than ideal but life improving jobs that wouldn’t exist were it not for ‘The Story Of Stuff’) –

    Preferring leisure that, whilst perhaps not locally eco friendly (soothing the conscience), globally destroys ecology. Sexual freedom, and attendant jealousies etc, that would not be viable were global markets to truly reflect merit (according to standards of any moderately civilized person).

    Rich communities achieve more when divorce and abortion limit the harm of volatile families, while poor communities can’t afford such breakups.

    You mean they, or the majority, become more efficient at perpetuating the Story Of Stuff?

    The following may be of interest.
    http://www.city-journal.org/html/14_4_oh_to_be.html

    Poor competing communities can’t afford arbitrary cultural barriers to getting cash or tech, but such arbitrary restrictions hurt a family [less] if its neighbors are similarly restricted.

  • Jackson

    whislt perhaps locally eco-friendly… not not locally

  • Doug S.

    I think David Brin’s discussion of what he sees as the four major competing value systems in the world, which can be roughly described as (Russian) Paranoia, (Latin American / African / Islamic) Machismo, (East Asian) Conformity, and (Western) Openness. (For better descriptions, read the article.)

    Looking at the graph, the upper left is Paranoid, the upper middle is Conformist, the upper right is Open, and nearly the whole bottom half is Macho.

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  • Psychohistorian

    “having many kids makes sense for families struggling against poverty”

    Buh?

    • http://www.zianet.com/ehusman/weblog/blogger.html Eric H

      In poor countries, kids are your Social Security. If many die in childhood or at birth, you need to have more to ensure some will survive to *your* old age (40).

  • magfrump

    I’m a little disappointed at this comments thread. I’d like to see more alternative axes.

    Generally, though, I’d be interested to see a graph of (x+y vs GDP per capita or median income) and (y-x vs number of times country has been invaded in the last 200 years, or percent of years out of the last 100 that there has been an armed conflict on their soil).

    Definitely not digging the “march of progress” type axes that the WVS uses. Like the post.

  • http://www.rationalmechanisms.com richard silliker

    “But if so, just what are those key disputed values?”

    There are no values to dispute. For a value to be valid it must arises directly from cause and effect and as of yet I have been unable to find one. All there really is, is our likes and dislikes.

  • 2999

    Ok, these are my axes.

    1. Survival should be “safety and belonging values”.

    2. Traditional should be “belonging values”.

    3. Rational should definitely be esteem/achievement values.

    4. Self-expression should be self-actualization values.

    Obviously this is based on Maslow’s hierarchy.

    • 2999

      Actually those would be group value names, not axis names.

  • http://timtyler.org/ Tim Tyler

    There are a huge number of value disputes going on in the world – one for every polymorphic locus.

    If I had to classify those into a few groups, I’d say the most fundamental split in the modern world was probably that between DNA-maximisation and meme maximisation.

  • PeskyFLy

    Overcoming bias? Perhaps you should address biases in value nomenclature.

  • rob

    The fact English Speaking is a category (despite bias) makes me wonder: how much of these values are a function of language? And how much of language is a function of these values?

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  • http://shagbark.livejournal.com Phil Goetz

    Religious commitment, pride, a work ethic, and having many kids makes sense for families struggling against poverty, while families seeking comfort and happiness from their wealth prefer leisure, health, ecology, sexual freedom, and tolerance. Poor communities struggling against outsiders want solidarity and (they think) central authority, with each family carrying its own load, even if no one is happy. Rich but still competing communities attend more to politics, achievement, determination, and thrift.

    Rich communities achieve more when divorce and abortion limit the harm of volatile families, while poor communities can’t afford such breakups. Poor competing communities can’t afford arbitrary cultural barriers to getting cash or tech, but such arbitrary restrictions hurt a family less if its neighbors are similarly restricted.

    These sound post-hoc to me. You could make equally good arguments in the opposite direction. Poor communities can’t afford the drain of bad marriages, or of unwanted pregnancies. Pride, a work ethic, faith in God, and having many children all naturally go along with being rich.

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