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Measures of cultural distance - Marginal REVOLUTION
A new paper with many authors — most prominently Joseph Henrich — tries to measure the cultural gaps between different countries.  I am reproducing a few of their results (see pp.36-37 for more), noting that higher numbers represent higher gaps:


Overall the numbers show much greater cultural distance of other nations from China than from the United States, a significant and under-discussed problem for China. For instance, the United States is about as culturally close to Hong Kong as China is.

[ed.: Japan is closer to the US than China. Interesting. I'd like to see some data based on something other than self-reported values though.]

the study:
Beyond WEIRD Psychology: Measuring and Mapping Scales of Cultural and Psychological Distance:
We present a new tool that provides a means to measure the psychological and cultural distance between two societies and create a distance scale with any population as the point of comparison. Since psychological data is dominated by samples drawn from the United States or other WEIRD nations, this tool provides a “WEIRD scale” to assist researchers in systematically extending the existing database of psychological phenomena to more diverse and globally representative samples. As the extreme WEIRDness of the literature begins to dissolve, the tool will become more useful for designing, planning, and justifying a wide range of comparative psychological projects. We have made our code available and developed an online application for creating other scales (including the “Sino scale” also presented in this paper). We discuss regional diversity within nations showing the relative homogeneity of the United States. Finally, we use these scales to predict various psychological outcomes.
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7 weeks ago by nhaliday
CPC Elite Perception of the US since the Early 1990s: Wang Huning and Zheng Bijian as Test Cases
What makes this paper distinct from previous research is that it juxtaposes two of the most influential yet under-studied America watchers within the top echelon of the CPC, Wang Huning and Zheng Bijian. To be sure, the two have indelibly shaped CPC attitudes, yet surprisingly enough, although Zheng has been written about extensively in the English language, Wang has hitherto largely remained outside academics’ purview. This paper also aims, in passing, to explore linkages between Wang and Zheng ideas and those of other well-known America watchers like Liu Mingfu and Yan Xuetong. It is hoped that this comparison will offer clues as to the extent to which the current advisory shaping CPC thinking on the US differs from the previous generation, and as to whether CPC thinking is un-American or anti-American in essence. The conclusions will tie the study together by speculating based on Wang and Zheng’s views about the degree to which New Confucianism, as opposed to Neo-Liberalism, might shape Chinese society in the future.
I want someone to translate Wang Huning’s book “America Against America”
For the record, in Chinese that's《美国反对美国》。Wang traveled across USA in the '80s, visiting big cities and small towns. Book lambasted democracy, contrasting the 'ideal' of American rhetoric with the 'reality' of American life. Wang is now one of Xi's closest advisors.
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july 2019 by nhaliday
T. Greer on Twitter: "Genesis 1st half of Exodus Basic passages of the Deuteronomic Covenant Select scenes from Numbers-Judges Samuel I-II Job Ecclesiastes Proverbs Select Psalms Select passages of Isiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel Jonah 4 Gospels+Acts Romans
I would pair letters from Paul with Flannery O'Connor's "A Good Man is Hard to Find."

I designed a hero's journey course that included Gilgamesh, Odyssey, and Gawain and the Green Knight. Before reading Gawain you'd read the Sermon on the Mount + few parts of gospels.
The idea with that last one being that Gawain was an attempt to make a hero who (unlike Odysseus) accorded with Christian ethics. As one of its discussion points, the class can debate over how well it actually did that.
So I would preface Lord of the Flies with a stylized account of Hobbes and Rosseau, and we would read a great deal of Genesis alongside LOTF.

Same approach was taken to Greece and Rome. Classical myths would be paired with poems from the 1600s-1900s that alluded to them.
1st half of Exodus
Basic passages of the Deuteronomic Covenant
Select scenes from Numbers-Judges
Samuel I-II
Select Psalms
Select passages of Isiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel
4 Gospels+Acts
1 Corinthians
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february 2019 by nhaliday
WHO | Priority environment and health risks

Environmental factors are a root cause of a significant disease burden, particularly in developing countries. An estimated 25% of death and disease globally, and nearly 35% in regions such as sub-Saharan Africa, is linked to environmental hazards. Some key areas of risk include the following:

- Unsafe water, poor sanitation and hygiene kill an estimated 1.7 million people annually, particularly as a result of diarrhoeal disease.
- Indoor smoke from solid fuels kills an estimated 1.6 million people annually due to respiratory diseases.
- Malaria kills over 1.2 million people annually, mostly African children under the age of five. Poorly designed irrigation and water systems, inadequate housing, poor waste disposal and water storage, deforestation and loss of biodiversity, all may be contributing factors to the most common vector-borne diseases including malaria, dengue and leishmaniasis.
- Urban air pollution generated by vehicles, industries and energy production kills approximately 800 000 people annually.
- Unintentional acute poisonings kill 355 000 people globally each year. In developing countries, where two-thirds of these deaths occur, such poisonings are associated strongly with excessive exposure to, and inappropriate use of, toxic chemicals and pesticides present in occupational and/or domestic environments.
- Climate change impacts including more extreme weather events, changed patterns of disease and effects on agricultural production, are estimated to cause over 150 000 deaths annually.

Note the high point at human origin (Africa, Middle East) and Asia. Low points in New World and Europe/Russia. Probably key factor in explaining human psychological variation (Haidt axes, individualism-collectivism, kinship structure, etc.). E.g., compare Islam/Judaism (circumcision, food preparation/hygiene rules) and Christianity (orthodoxy more than orthopraxy, no arbitrary practices for group-marking).

I wonder if the dietary and hygiene laws of Christianity get up-regulated in higher parasite load places (the US South, Middle Eastern Christianity, etc.)?

Also the reason for this variation probably basically boils down how long local microbes have had time to adapt to the human immune system.

obv. correlation:

Tropical disease:
Tropical diseases are diseases that are prevalent in or unique to tropical and subtropical regions.[1] The diseases are less prevalent in temperate climates, due in part to the occurrence of a cold season, which controls the insect population by forcing hibernation. However, many were present in northern Europe and northern America in the 17th and 18th centuries before modern understanding of disease causation. The initial impetus for tropical medicine was to protect the health of colonialists, notably in India under the British Raj.[2] Insects such as mosquitoes and flies are by far the most common disease carrier, or vector. These insects may carry a parasite, bacterium or virus that is infectious to humans and animals. Most often disease is transmitted by an insect "bite", which causes transmission of the infectious agent through subcutaneous blood exchange. Vaccines are not available for most of the diseases listed here, and many do not have cures.

cf. Galton:
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july 2018 by nhaliday
Cultural variation in cultural evolution | Proceedings of the Royal Society of London B: Biological Sciences
Cultural evolutionary models have identified a range of conditions under which social learning (copying others) is predicted to be adaptive relative to asocial learning (learning on one's own), particularly in humans where socially learned information can accumulate over successive generations. However, cultural evolution and behavioural economics experiments have consistently shown apparently maladaptive under-utilization of social information in Western populations. Here we provide experimental evidence of cultural variation in people's use of social learning, potentially explaining this mismatch. People in mainland China showed significantly more social learning than British people in an artefact-design task designed to assess the adaptiveness of social information use. People in Hong Kong, and Chinese immigrants in the UK, resembled British people in their social information use, suggesting a recent shift in these groups from social to asocial learning due to exposure to Western culture. Finally, Chinese mainland participants responded less than other participants to increased environmental change within the task. Our results suggest that learning strategies in humans are culturally variable and not genetically fixed, necessitating the study of the ‘social learning of social learning strategies' whereby the dynamics of cultural evolution are responsive to social processes, such as migration, education and globalization.


Western education emphasizes individual discovery and creativity, whereas East Asian education emphasizes rote learning from authority [25]. The adoption of consumer products shows less social influence in Western than East Asian countries [26]. Westerners are described as more individualistic/independent, while East Asians are described as more collectivistic/interdependent [27], dimensions which intuitively map on to asocial and social learning, respectively.

Societal background influences social learning in cooperative decision making:
We demonstrate that Chinese participants base their cooperation decisions on information about their peers much more frequently than their British counterparts. Moreover, our results reveal remarkable societal differences in the type of peer information people consider. In contrast to the consensus view, Chinese participants tend to be substantially less majority-oriented than the British. While Chinese participants are inclined to adopt peer behavior that leads to higher payoffs, British participants tend to cooperate only if sufficiently many peers do so too. These results indicate that the basic processes underlying social transmission are not universal; rather, they vary with cultural conditions. As success-based learning is associated with selfish behavior and majority-based learning can help foster cooperation, our study suggests that in different societies social learning can play diverging roles in the emergence and maintenance of cooperation.
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may 2018 by nhaliday
The first ethical revolution – Gene Expression
Fifty years ago Julian Jaynes published The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind. Seventy years ago Karl Jaspers introduced the concept of the Axial Age. Both point to the same dynamic historically.

Something happened in the centuries around 500 BCE all around the world. Great religions and philosophies arose. The Indian religious traditions, the Chinese philosophical-political ones, and the roots of what we can recognize as Judaism. In Greece, the precursors of many modern philosophical streams emerged formally, along with a variety of political systems.

The next few centuries saw some more innovation. Rabbinical Judaism transformed a ritualistic tribal religion into an ethical one, and Christianity universalized Jewish religious thought, as well as infusing it with Greek systematic concepts. Meanwhile, Indian and Chinese thought continued to evolve, often due to interactions each other (it is hard to imagine certain later developments in Confucianism without the Buddhist stimulus). Finally, in the 7th century, Islam emerges as the last great world religion.


Living in large complex societies with social stratification posed challenges. A religion such as Christianity was not a coincidence, something of its broad outlines may have been inevitable. Universal, portable, ethical, and infused with transcendence and coherency. Similarly, god-kings seem to have universally transformed themselves into the human who binds heaven to earth in some fashion.

The second wave of social-ethical transformation occurred in the early modern period, starting in Europe. My own opinion is that economic growth triggered by innovation and gains in productivity unleashed constraints which had dampened further transformations in the domain of ethics. But the new developments ultimately were simply extensions and modifications on the earlier “source code” (e.g., whereas for nearly two thousand years Christianity had had to make peace with the existence of slavery, in the 19th century anti-slavery activists began marshaling Christian language against the institution).
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april 2018 by nhaliday
China’s Ideological Spectrum
We find that public preferences are weakly constrained, and the configuration of preferences is multidimensional, but the latent traits of these dimensions are highly correlated. Those who prefer authoritarian rule are more likely to support nationalism, state intervention in the economy, and traditional social values; those who prefer democratic institutions and values are more likely to support market reforms but less likely to be nationalistic and less likely to support traditional social values. This latter set of preferences appears more in provinces with higher levels of development and among wealthier and better-educated respondents.

Enlightened One-Party Rule? Ideological Differences between Chinese Communist Party Members and the Mass Public:
A popular view of nondemocratic regimes is that they draw followers mainly from those with an illiberal, authoritarian mind-set. We challenge this view by arguing that there exist a different class of autocracies that rule with a relatively enlightened base. Leveraging multiple nationally representative surveys from China over the past decade, we substantiate this claim by estimating and comparing the ideological preferences of Chinese Communist Party members and ordinary citizens. We find that party members on average hold substantially more modern and progressive views than the public on issues such as gender equality, political pluralism, and openness to international exchange. We also explore two mechanisms that may account for this party–public value gap—selection and socialization. We find that while education-based selection is the most dominant mechanism overall, socialization also plays a role, especially among older and less educated party members.
Does this control for wealth and education?
Perhaps about half the best educated youth joined party.
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march 2018 by nhaliday
Chengyu - Wikipedia
Chengyu (simplified Chinese: 成语; traditional Chinese: 成語, pinyin: chéngyǔ, lit. "set phrases") are a type of traditional Chinese idiomatic expression, most of which consist of four characters. Chengyu were widely used in Classical Chinese and are still common in vernacular Chinese writing and in the spoken language today. According to the most stringent definition, there are about 5,000 chengyu in the Chinese language, though some dictionaries list over 20,000.

They are often referred to as Chinese idioms or four-character idioms; however, they are not the only idioms in Chinese.

one example is 指鹿為馬 zhi lu wei ma "point deer, make horse"
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february 2018 by nhaliday
Information Processing: US Needs a National AI Strategy: A Sputnik Moment?
FT podcasts on US-China competition and AI:

A new recommended career path for effective altruists: China specialist:
Our rough guess is that it would be useful for there to be at least ten people in the community with good knowledge in this area within the next few years.

By “good knowledge” we mean they’ve spent at least 3 years studying these topics and/or living in China.

We chose ten because that would be enough for several people to cover each of the major areas listed (e.g. 4 within AI, 2 within biorisk, 2 within foreign relations, 1 in another area).

AI Policy and Governance Internship:
Deciphering China’s AI Dream
The context, components, capabilities, and consequences of
China’s strategy to lead the world in AI

Europe’s AI delusion:
Brussels is failing to grasp threats and opportunities of artificial intelligence.

When the computer program AlphaGo beat the Chinese professional Go player Ke Jie in a three-part match, it didn’t take long for Beijing to realize the implications.

If algorithms can already surpass the abilities of a master Go player, it can’t be long before they will be similarly supreme in the activity to which the classic board game has always been compared: war.

As I’ve written before, the great conflict of our time is about who can control the next wave of technological development: the widespread application of artificial intelligence in the economic and military spheres.


If China’s ambitions sound plausible, that’s because the country’s achievements in deep learning are so impressive already. After Microsoft announced that its speech recognition software surpassed human-level language recognition in October 2016, Andrew Ng, then head of research at Baidu, tweeted: “We had surpassed human-level Chinese recognition in 2015; happy to see Microsoft also get there for English less than a year later.”


One obvious advantage China enjoys is access to almost unlimited pools of data. The machine-learning technologies boosting the current wave of AI expansion are as good as the amount of data they can use. That could be the number of people driving cars, photos labeled on the internet or voice samples for translation apps. With 700 or 800 million Chinese internet users and fewer data protection rules, China is as rich in data as the Gulf States are in oil.

How can Europe and the United States compete? They will have to be commensurately better in developing algorithms and computer power. Sadly, Europe is falling behind in these areas as well.


Chinese commentators have embraced the idea of a coming singularity: the moment when AI surpasses human ability. At that point a number of interesting things happen. First, future AI development will be conducted by AI itself, creating exponential feedback loops. Second, humans will become useless for waging war. At that point, the human mind will be unable to keep pace with robotized warfare. With advanced image recognition, data analytics, prediction systems, military brain science and unmanned systems, devastating wars might be waged and won in a matter of minutes.


The argument in the new strategy is fully defensive. It first considers how AI raises new threats and then goes on to discuss the opportunities. The EU and Chinese strategies follow opposite logics. Already on its second page, the text frets about the legal and ethical problems raised by AI and discusses the “legitimate concerns” the technology generates.

The EU’s strategy is organized around three concerns: the need to boost Europe’s AI capacity, ethical issues and social challenges. Unfortunately, even the first dimension quickly turns out to be about “European values” and the need to place “the human” at the center of AI — forgetting that the first word in AI is not “human” but “artificial.”
US military: "LOL, China thinks it's going to be a major player in AI, but we've got all the top AI researchers. You guys will help us develop weapons, right?"

US AI researchers: "No."

US military: "But... maybe just a computer vision app."

US AI researchers: "NO."
AI-risk was a mistake.
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february 2018 by nhaliday
The Western Elite from a Chinese Perspective - American Affairs Journal
I don’t claim to be a modern-day Alexis de Tocqueville, nor do I have much in common with this famous observer of American life. He grew up in Paris, a city renowned for its culture and architecture. I grew up in Shijiazhuang, a city renowned for being the headquarters of the company that produced toxic infant formula. He was a child of aristocrats; I am the child of modest workers.

Nevertheless, I hope my candid observations can provide some insights into the elite institutions of the West. Certain beliefs are as ubiquitous among the people I went to school with as smog was in Shijiazhuang. The doctrines that shape the worldviews and cultural assumptions at elite Western institutions like Cambridge, Stanford, and Goldman Sachs have become almost religious. Nevertheless, I hope that the perspective of a candid Chinese atheist can be of some instruction to them.


So I came to the UK in 2001, when I was 16 years old. Much to my surprise, I found the UK’s exam-focused educational system very similar to the one in China. What is more, in both countries, going to the “right schools” and getting the “right job” are seen as very important by a large group of eager parents. As a result, scoring well on exams and doing well in school interviews—or even the play session for the nursery or pre-prep school—become the most important things in the world. Even at the university level, the undergraduate degree from the University of Cambridge depends on nothing else but an exam at the end of the last year.

On the other hand, although the UK’s university system is considered superior to China’s, with a population that is only one-twentieth the size of my native country, competition, while tough, is less intimidating. For example, about one in ten applicants gets into Oxbridge in the UK, and Stanford and Harvard accept about one in twenty-five applicants. But in Hebei province in China, where I am from, only one in fifteen hundred applicants gets into Peking or Qinghua University.

Still, I found it hard to believe how much easier everything became. I scored first nationwide in the GCSE (high school) math exam, and my photo was printed in a national newspaper. I was admitted into Trinity College, University of Cambridge, once the home of Sir Isaac Newton, Francis Bacon, and Prince Charles.

I studied economics at Cambridge, a field which has become more and more mathematical since the 1970s. The goal is always to use a mathematical model to find a closed-form solution to a real-world problem. Looking back, I’m not sure why my professors were so focused on these models. I have since found that the mistake of blindly relying on models is quite widespread in both trading and investing—often with disastrous results, such as the infamous collapse of the hedge fund Long-Term Capital Management. Years later, I discovered the teaching of Warren Buffett: it is better to be approximately right than precisely wrong. But our professors taught us to think of the real world as a math problem.

The culture of Cambridge followed the dogmas of the classroom: a fervent adherence to rules and models established by tradition. For example, at Cambridge, students are forbidden to walk on grass. This right is reserved for professors only. The only exception is for those who achieve first class honors in exams; they are allowed to walk on one area of grass on one day of the year.

The behavior of my British classmates demonstrated an even greater herd mentality than what is often mocked in American MBAs. For example, out of the thirteen economists in my year at Trinity, twelve would go on to join investment banks, and five of us went to work for Goldman Sachs.


To me, Costco represents the best of American capitalism. It is a corporation known for having its customers and employees in mind, while at the same time it has compensated its shareholders handsomely over the years. To the customers, it offers the best combination of quality and low cost. Whenever it manages to reduce costs, it passes the savings on to customers immediately. Achieving a 10 percent gross margin with prices below Amazon’s is truly incredible. After I had been there once, I found it hard to shop elsewhere.

Meanwhile, its salaries are much higher than similar retail jobs. When the recession hit in 2008, the company increased salaries to help employees cope with the difficult environment. From the name tags the staff wear, I have seen that frontline employees work there for decades, something hard to imagine elsewhere.

Stanford was for me a distant second to Costco in terms of the American capitalist experience. Overall, I enjoyed the curriculum at the GSB. Inevitably I found some classes less interesting, but the professors all seemed to be quite understanding, even when they saw me reading my kindle during class.

One class was about strategy. It focused on how corporate mottos and logos could inspire employees. Many of the students had worked for nonprofits or health care or tech companies, all of which had mottos about changing the world, saving lives, saving the planet, etc. The professor seemed to like these mottos. I told him that at Goldman our motto was “be long-term greedy.” The professor couldn’t understand this motto or why it was inspiring. I explained to him that everyone else in the market was short-term greedy and, as a result, we took all their money. Since traders like money, this was inspiring. He asked if perhaps there was another motto or logo that my other classmates might connect with. I told him about the black swan I kept on my desk as a reminder that low probability events happen with high frequency. He didn’t like that motto either and decided to call on another student, who had worked at Pfizer. Their motto was “all people deserve to live healthy lives.” The professor thought this was much better. I didn’t understand how it would motivate employees, but this was exactly why I had come to Stanford: to learn the key lessons of interpersonal communication and leadership.

On the communication and leadership front, I came to the GSB knowing I was not good and hoped to get better. My favorite class was called “Interpersonal Dynamics” or, as students referred to it, “Touchy Feely.” In “Touchy Feely,” students get very candid feedback on how their words and actions affect others in a small group that meets several hours per week for a whole quarter.

We talked about microaggressions and feelings and empathy and listening. Sometimes in class the professor would say things to me like “Puzhong, when Mary said that, I could see you were really feeling something,” or “Puzhong, I could see in your eyes that Peter’s story affected you.” And I would tell them I didn’t feel anything. I was quite confused.

One of the papers we studied mentioned that subjects are often not conscious of their own feelings when fully immersed in a situation. But body indicators such as heart rate would show whether the person is experiencing strong emotions. I thought that I generally didn’t have a lot of emotions and decided that this might be a good way for me to discover my hidden emotions that the professor kept asking about.

So I bought a heart rate monitor and checked my resting heart rate. Right around 78. And when the professor said to me in class “Puzhong, I can see that story brought up some emotions in you,” I rolled up my sleeve and checked my heart rate. It was about 77. And so I said, “nope, no emotion.” The experiment seemed to confirm my prior belief: my heart rate hardly moved, even when I was criticized, though it did jump when I became excited or laughed.

This didn’t land well on some of my classmates. They felt I was not treating these matters with the seriousness that they deserved. The professor was very angry. My takeaway was that my interpersonal skills were so bad that I could easily offend people unintentionally, so I concluded that after graduation I should do something that involved as little human interaction as possible.

Therefore, I decided I needed to return to work in financial markets rather than attempting something else. I went to the career service office and told them that my primary goal after the MBA was to make money. I told them that $500,000 sounded like a good number. They were very confused, though, as they said their goal was to help me find my passion and my calling. I told them that my calling was to make money for my family. They were trying to be helpful, but in my case, their advice didn’t turn out to be very helpful.

Eventually I was able to meet the chief financial officer of my favorite company, Costco. He told me that they don’t hire any MBAs. Everyone starts by pushing trolleys. (I have seriously thought about doing just that. But my wife is strongly against it.) Maybe, I thought, that is why the company is so successful—no MBAs!


Warren Buffett has said that the moment one was born in the United States or another Western country, that person has essentially won a lottery. If someone is born a U.S. citizen, he or she enjoys a huge advantage in almost every aspect of life, including expected wealth, education, health care, environment, safety, etc., when compared to someone born in developing countries. For someone foreign to “purchase” these privileges, the price tag at the moment is $1 million dollars (the rough value of the EB-5 investment visa). Even at this price level, the demand from certain countries routinely exceeds the annual allocated quota, resulting in long waiting times. In that sense, American citizens were born millionaires!

Yet one wonders how long such luck will last. This brings me back to the title of Rubin’s book, his “uncertain world.” In such a world, the vast majority things are outside our control, determined by God or luck. After we have given our best and once the final card is drawn, we should neither become too excited by what we have achieved nor too depressed by what we failed to … [more]
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january 2018 by nhaliday

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