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:
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:
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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