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Comment on this entry

Why is “Confucian Culture” so wildly successful?

Hank Pellissier

Ethical Technology

August 29, 2011

Twenty-five hundred years ago, Master Kong was wandering homeless with his disciples, proselytizing his ethical viewpoints. He was greeted in every city with disdain, persecution, imprisonment. When “Confucius” (his Westernized name) died in 479 BC, he expressed wistful dismay that his moral reforms never took root…


Complete entry


Posted by Peter Goselin  on  08/29  at  03:38 PM

This article has so little to do with scientific observation and so much to do with stereotyping that it is astonishing to see it presented in a forum that supposedly champions rational thought.

What evidence is there that the “IQ” of these nations correlates to the teaching of confucian philosophy?  And why is it that the enlightened confucianists did such a splendid job of keeping hundreds of millions of Chinese people in poverty and illiteracy for centuries only to have communists in a period marked in decades change all that?

As if all of the gross assumptions and stereotypes weren’t bad enough, to then end by pointing out that San Francisco has a number Asian elected officials sounds an awful lot (emphasis on awful) like the old Chris Rock routine about how “well-spoken” Colin Powell was “for a black man.”  As if we should be astonished that a city with a huge Asian population also has Asian politicians!

Mr. Pellesier’s article is drivel.  Shame on you for publishing it as if it were something more!

Posted by iPan  on  08/29  at  04:04 PM


Don’t you know that IEET, Lifeboat, and related organizations are like the Vicky’s in The Diamond Age?

Cultural comparisons
The two cultural groups (called “phyles”) explored in most detail are the two that flourish in New Atlantis and among certain citizens of the fragmented lands that once constituted mainland China. Both groups turn to the past to seek guidance for the present and future. The New Atlantans, including the Hackworths and the Finkle-McGraws, have adopted the manners and beliefs of Victorian England; certain residents of erstwhile China, notably Dr. X and Judge Fang, follow the precepts of Confucius. There are important similarities between the two groups. Both groups are producers and users of the Diamond Age’s nanotechnology, and yet both groups revere tradition as it is expressed through comportment, clothing and other relics of the past. For example, New Atlantan John Hackworth wears a custom-made top hat as an emblem of his rank, and Confucian Judge Fang wears a traditional cap embroidered with a unicorn as an emblem of his acuity. Both groups value education, and both groups value an orderly, hierarchical society in which intricate rules of manners and courtesies bind all parties. However, it is the contrast between Victorian and Confucian world views that drives the plot: Victorians are elitist and proprietary while Confucians see the peasant as the most important member of society. This basic difference can also be seen in the way they view the dangers and opportunities of molecular assemblers and artificial intelligence (as applied to child-raising); but also by the way they handle crime and punishment. Confucianism is portrayed in some depth (if somewhat inaccurately), including a quasi-historical re-telling of the Boxer Rebellion. The novel also shows the emergence of new sub-cultures such as the elusive, high-tech CryptNet and the “Drummers,” who achieve a state of group mind through drumming, nanotechnology, and group sex. It is sometimes possible for individuals to change their phyle and, as Lord Finkle-McGraw himself notes, taking the oath to become a New Atlantan is often a decision reached by an older, more settled person who has tasted life in some of the wilder, more radical and more chaotic phyles.


Posted by toddert  on  08/29  at  04:28 PM

Hmm I’m also a bit thrown by this one. Japan, China, Taiwan have IQs of 105, but non-Confucian Austria and Germany score 102. Is that 3-point difference exclusively attributable to Confucianism? And that same source improbably lists Italy as an IQ-102 country, which is another issue in itself; the Lynn I and Lynn II estimates are different than the Wikipedia estimates which are different than this-or-that blog estimates.

Posted by Robert B. Livingston  on  08/29  at  04:54 PM

This is an interesting article to me for a number of reasons.  These are my immediate thoughts which I hope you do not mind me sharing:

1. Karl Deutsch in a book called Tides Among Nations (1979) lamented how the annual loss of children to premature death due to disease and lack of care represented a huge loss of solutions to current and future world problems. He argued that although among peoples, the Chinese, Jews, and Scots typically had a higher rate of geniuses (certainly questionable), geniuses are in fact born, and die before adulthood, in significant numbers worldwide.

Think what one will of the basis of his argument about IQ, and your own article suggesting a correlation between Confucianism and IQ, common sense indicates that we all do indeed lose by not fostering the gifts every child has by insuring their good life and health. 

2. Although I am by far no expert on Confucius, I have a great respect for he who said significantly “That when the perfect order prevails, the world is like a home shared by all.”  (

Nevertheless, one should not discount that wisdom (or genius) in and of itself does not even guarantee survival.  There is a very old Chinese folktale (which actually has universal iterations) which tells of a jackal besting Lao-tse who could not save himself from a tiger because Lao-tse was too wise for his own good.

Today we see a world confronted with huge challenges which are stumping some of our wisest.

We do indeed have a need to learn from each other—but we should be wary of the worst avarices of nature itself—and be ready to act for justice in a way that does not compromise what is best in our human nature.

Recently I heard someone say, and I agree with him, “that there can be no peace without justice, and no justice without truth.” 

3. Lastly, I do not view our incumbent mayor as living the Confucian ideal.

Unlike Ed Lee, who reneged on his many personal assurances that he would fill his position for an interim only, Confucius espoused and advised a virtue that was never self-aggrandizing or dishonest.  In the Analects, one finds parables of persons who were entreated to posts but declined on principle.  For example:

“The chief of the Chî family sent to ask Min Tsze-ch’ien to be governor of Pî. Min Tszech’ien said, ‘Decline the offer for me politely. If any one come again to me with a second invitation, I shall be obliged to go and live on the banks of the Wan.’” (

I cannot imagine Confucius bending to the will of persons who care less for the general welfare than for their own.

4. I think it is a good thing that you raise questions about the character of whoever becomes San Francisco’s next mayor—and I do hope that whoever it will be will reflect deeply on the wisdom of Confucius and strive to fill the position in a virtuous way.

Posted by Hank Pellissier  on  08/29  at  06:14 PM

@ Peter Goselin - I always get upset letters like yours when I write about any culture. I’ve written about Israel, Brazil, Denmark, South Korea, and Singapore now, for this site and/or others. Sorry my observations infuriated you. I am just trying to understand why those East Asian nations have the successes that I noted. If you have any insights about that, I’d appreciate hearing about them. Meanwhile, I intend to keep examining what I regard as “successful” cultures because I believe pointing out the possible reasons for their success provides value to everyone. 

@ iPan - I am actually reading “The Diamond Age” at this very moment and, indeed, it partially inspired me to write the essay. I was impressed that the author regarded it as a Culture of the Future.  (Peter Gosselin - I suggest that you read that book as well, and then, you’re welcome to write Neal Stephenson an equally annoyed email, if you wish)

@ toddert - you’re right, Austria does have a high IQ on many charts.  The chart I used can be found if you look up wikipedia’s “Wealth and the IQ of Nations”

@ Robert Livingston - Yes, I understand that some voters question Ed Lee’s integrity because he said he wouldn’t run for the office. But there is agreement, it seems, that he did bring “civility” to SF City Hall for a brief time, and I posited that as a “Confucianist trait.” Personally, I find all the candidates who viciously attack Ed Lee to be very unpleasant and unvirtuous in their remarks, and I think the majority of SF voters agree with me, since last I heard, he was ahead of everyone else by at least 25%.  Thanks though for your very well-thought out comments.

Posted by Curtis  on  08/29  at  08:00 PM

Lao Tzu got there first. ‘Kong’ added his own morality to the Taoist precepts. I consider Confucious to be a thief.

Posted by Amy Fox  on  08/29  at  08:38 PM

Like most articles that try to correlate intelligence with culture or ethnicity, this article lacks statistical rigour and smacks of oversimplifed cultural assumptions. It is a weak argument and poor social science.

To test the hypothesis that Confucianism yields success, you would need to first define “success” and also decide how to measure “Confucianism” (or non-Confucianism). Then you can have at the statistics. Use trivariate analysis or quasi-experimental design to rule out interfering factors when comparing data points (individuals, households, regions, or nations). Your independent variable could be “adherence to Confucianism as measured by population censuses” or it could be a series of Lickert scales (agree stongly, agree a little, etc…) gauging opinion on statements from the Analects.

If you’re looking at nations, this means deciding which countries are or are not “Confucianist,” then measuring them against comparable “non-Confucianist” countries. All of them. Every time. Not Japan in one case and China in another and mentioning Korea but not measuring it.

I find this article’s use of statistics to be highly selective. Why use data sets from the 80s when there are more current scholastic measures? Why use the IMF figures for economic growth, but the World Bank figures for per-capita income? (The link provided shows that the IMF also has per-capita income figures - but these are not as flattering). And why pick the top 10? Why not just run a bivariate correlation? When “Confucian” nations are represented in some rankings, but not others, what does this mean?

Why use these particular data sources? From what I can access of the The Chan/Lynn study (1989), it may simililarly lack rigour. Why does it do biethnic testing in some countries, but not others (e.g. “Czechoslovakia”)? Does it control for socioeconomic class? Nutrition? What is its measure of ethnicity? And, more importantly, why is it focusing on ethnicity when this study is about Confucianist values?

I would call into question some of the cultural assumptions.

For example, how many people use an Abacus? And what about abacus users in “non-Confucian” countries? As for literate celebate priests versus married mandarins: I would contest the assumption that priests had fewer children (or were more intelligent than their siblings) - consider the number of moral panics over the fathering of out-of-wedlock children and other sexual misconduct by priests over the centuries.

I also notice that the UK and US are sometimes highlighted when they fall outside of a ranking (generally when they score poorly, confirming the hypothesis) and left out of the rankings at other times (generally when they score well, calling the hypothesis into question). Or why some top-10 rankings show all the countries in the top 10 and others do not. And why the US and UK and not other Western Countries?

There are other errors and unfounded assumptions, but I think this will do for a start.

On the whole, this is poor social science. As with many cross-cultural/cross-ethnic intelligence studies, It looks like seeking data to prove a theory, rather than qualifying a theory and then seeking data to confirm or deny it.

Posted by post-post  on  08/29  at  09:58 PM

Worst IMO is the West is biased against Eastern economics; the following link is to that which is far more interesting than Marx, Adam Smith, Milton Friedman:

Posted by post-post  on  08/29  at  10:12 PM

BTW, not to write that progressive utilization isn’t also outmoded yet it is IMO more interesting than Western-oriented, Western-imperialist Marxism; Adam Smith capitalism, and Milton Friedman’s libertarianism.
Here’s something in progressive utilization theory which is outdated:
“Similarly, full employment would utilize those from within a given area rather than outsourcing work to other regions.”

Doesn’t appear such would work anymore—does it?

Posted by Hank Pellissier  on  08/29  at  10:29 PM

@Curtis - hmm… Confucius never claimed to invent anything that he did not. He revered the scholars that preceded him.  Plus, Taoism, IMO, definitely did not cover aspects of society that Confucianism did.  I believe that the Chinese, for example, lived happily with both Confucianism and Taoism as part of their culture, without needing to pick one, and denigrate the other. 

@ AMy Fox - I am quite open to hearing you answer the question that I posed in the headline.  What, in your opinion, is the reason for the very consistent and significant success of the nations that have Confucianism as a predominant influence in their background?  I noticed the common extremely high rankings in Education, IQ, Economic Success, and Longevity, and I attributed it to the cultural aspect that they all shared.  If you have a brighter notion than mine, if you see something that I did not, I encourage you to let me know.  But I do not think that you will.  Confucianism has a 2,500 year old history, it has been utilized by many eras of East Asian dynasties, with consistent success.

If you indeed have a background in social science (mine is BA History and MA Religious Studies) please let me know something useful that you have learned with your knowledge.  I am trying to figure out what works successfully in cultures—this is one of several articles that I have written—another one examined the egalitarianism of Denmark, also quite successful at producing a well-functioning society, using a very different model than Confucianism.  But please, instead of just trying to prove me wrong, please try to advance something useful.

I don’t know how many East Asians live in your town, Nelson B.C, but I do happen to live a stone’s throw away from Chinatown, San Francisco, my daughters attend a school that is majority Chinese-speaking, and I know enough Mandarin to joke with their school crossing guard.  Plus I have spent time in CHina.

@post-post—yes, thanks for pointing that out.  There is an entire Confucian model of economics that South Korea apparently follows; I was going to address that in my article, but…  anyway, thanks for bringing that up.

Posted by Hank Pellissier  on  08/29  at  10:33 PM

here’s a link for anyone who wants to learn more about this topic:

Is Confucian Capitalism Superior to Western Models?

“People in these economies have simply studied harder, worked harder, and saved more than people in other countries.”
    —World Bank report

Posted by Amy Fox  on  08/30  at  04:10 AM

I don’t have an answer for the question in the headline because it not a good research question. As I alluded to in my comments, it presumes that Confucian Culture is wildly successful without a working definition (or measure) of “confucian,” “culture” or “wildly successful.”

Your comment asks me “what is the reason for the very consistent and significant success of the nations that have Confucianism as a predominant influence in their background?” I’m still working without a definition of success (or a measure of “Confucian”), but whatever the measure is, I doubt it is consistant if you take an historical view. *Some* Confucian nations are in the top 10 of this or that category this year, but not all of them and there is no underlying logic to the selection of particular rankings or the use of the year 2010 for some figures, and the 1980s for others. Why these measures? What about the countries that weren’t in the top rankings? Why those particular years? Were 2010 and 1989 especially Confucian years for the surveyed countries? Was the isolationist period of China not Confucian?

Without strong methods, this paper reads as speculation with some sympathetic links, rather than a hypothesis.

Have I learned anything useful in my studies?

Yes. Most economists and would agree that education is an important foundation of social development. This holds out in most circumstancs. But education this is not especially Confucian. It’s just planning for the long term, and it’s important in many cultures.

You have requested that “instead of just trying to prove me wrong, please try to advance something useful.”

I have. I highlighted the gaps in the above post’s research methods and outlined a better option. Re-summarized, it is:
- define “Confucian”
- figure out how to measure it
- define “success.
- figure out how to measure that
- decide what you are measuring: individuals, families, regions or countries
- construct a hypothesis
- test this hypothesis empirically, paring out any variables that could bias the sample
- when you test it, don’t just look for sympathetic studies, decide what data to survey and why.
- perferably, do so cross-temporally

If this seems daunting, see if you can borrow a social science research methods textbook. It will clearly outline the steps you need to follow. It should be well within the capabilities for a person of your learning.

(I do not understand the relevance of your comment about living near Chinatown. Can you explain?)

Posted by Peter Wicks  on  08/30  at  10:43 AM

This makes a lot of sense to me, and criticising it as “poor social science” indeed misses something essential about how science (social or otherwise) works: you come up with theories to explain whatever data happens to come your way, *then* you test against rigourous experiment. Perhaps the most constructive message to take from Amy Fox’s comment is that it would be interesting for someone with the required resources and patience to analyse this further, using whatever “trivariate analysis or quasi-experimental design” they can muster.

One obvious caveat though: Confucian cultures did not give rise to the Industrial Revolution, the scientific method, the enlightenment, and modern technology. Something about the Western monotheistic tradition, with its once-through conception of life and death (no second bite at the cherry), and visions of heaven and hell, seems to have driven an intensity in the search for truth that has tended to be missing in the (more peaceful but less ambitious?) Confucian cultures. The Shanghai skyline that I’m currently looking at is a product of Western, not Eastern, technology.

Posted by Mark  on  08/30  at  12:23 PM

Good comments Amy.  Some of the writers on this site really need to improve the scientific rigour of their analysis and not use anectdotal evidence to support sometimes prejudicial assumptions.

Why reinvent the wheel?  There already has been much research on these issues.  Why not look at the established body of research, summarize it for your audience and draw some further conclusions.

From my reading of the research, differences in the level of development of countries have more to do with the nature of internal and external class relations and how this dynamic facilitated or hindered capitalist development, rather than IQs per se.

Posted by Hank Pellissier  on  08/30  at  12:47 PM

@ Amy - my close proximity to Chinatown made me curious enough about the culture to write on this topic.  I also live in a city that has 200,000 Chinese, your city has 15 (according to Nelson’s city page) so I am, I am assuming, more aware on a daily level of cultural differences between my Western culture and the recently-arrived Chinese immigrant culture.

I doubt that our disagreement actually has anything to do with my methodology, so it is rather pointless for me to continue defending it.  Usually, in these situations, the reader’s reaction has more to do with a personal bias of theirs that I have no knowledge of. 

Thanks, though, for contributing to this discussion, and I welcome you to look through other essays here at IEET - I hope that you’ll find others that you will enjoy more.  You can try some of my other essays as well - I have about 18 posted, many on feminist topics, maybe you’d like those better.

Posted by Hank Pellissier  on  08/30  at  01:15 PM

Here are some additional links that address Confucianism today:

The Real Success Behind the Asian Tiger (Confucianism)

How to Achieve Business Success in Confucian Societies

Confucius Rises as Communist Party Revives Traditions

The Confucian Renaissance


the last link, in the Asia Times, is particularly interesting - I’ll quote it at length below:

“It is now plain that the most dynamic practitioners of capitalism at the dawn of the 21st century are to be found in Asia. More strikingly, all of them are located within what might be called a Confucian cultural zone.

It is clear the success of Japan and the “Four Tigers” (Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Singapore) owe much to such essential Confucian precepts as self-discipline, social harmony, strong families and a reverence for education…

What is the relevance of Confucianism in modern times? … Of all the world’s great canons, Confucianism is the most practical. What concerned him most were people’s relationships with one another and with the state. He also focused on social justice and good government. Another was learning. Whether East Asian countries include The Analects (sayings of Confucius) in their social curriculums, they all understand that education is the root of national strength and prosperity. The ingrained respect for knowledge - and for the teacher who imparts it - is the key factor in the outstanding academic performance of East Asians on a global basis.

…. If they succeed in adapting their time-tested heritage to contemporary challenges, Master Kong’s teaching may blossom beyond East Asia to enrich all mankind in the next century.

by Veteran Asia correspondent Todd Crowell

Posted by post-post  on  08/30  at  05:30 PM

“Something about the Western monotheistic tradition, with its once-through conception of life and death (no second bite at the cherry), and visions of heaven and hell, seems to have driven an intensity in the search for truth that has tended to be missing in the (more peaceful but less ambitious?) Confucian cultures.”

Yes, i.e. Calvinism of course. Northern arctic winters as well. James Watt and others in the north needed to find energy sources other than wood and peat, etc., used in their areas. So Watt for instance was spurred on to build a practical steam engine.
Asia includes more tropical regions—as if anyone at IEET needs to be told that.

Posted by Peter Wicks  on  08/30  at  07:56 PM

Not only Calvinism. The idea of a single, all-powerful, personal God who has views about how we live (and what we believe) is reflected in all three main monotheistic traditions, starting with the Hebrews and later bolstered by power structures associated with both Christianity (Byzantium, Rome) and Islam (the caliphs).

Posted by Matt Brown  on  08/30  at  08:33 PM

“I doubt that our disagreement actually has anything to do with my methodology, so it is rather pointless for me to continue defending it. Usually, in these situations, the reader’s reaction has more to do with a personal bias of theirs that I have no knowledge of.”

Wow Hank.  Really?  Are you so at a loss that you have to result to ad hominems and calling into question a person’s personal biases rather than addressing the very real issues she raised with you article.  She listed problems with your hypothesis and offered suggestions as to how you could improve it.  At every point she has been calm and logical with her analysis.  In return you responded with logical fallacies and essentially accused her of being a racist (I can think of nothing else that bias against Confucian culture would be.)

All of the links you have cited were news articles that did little more than what you did here: state broad cultural assumptions as facts.  One of them spent quite a bit of time explaining the importance of using chop sticks and holding the rice bowl to your mouth.  Not exactly penetrating insight.

And no, living close to Chinatown does not give you any special insight into “Confucian culture” any more than Sarah Palin seeing Russia from her house gave her insight into foreign policy.

Posted by iPan  on  08/30  at  09:31 PM

Hank is not a scientist, he’s a journalist:

Hank Pellissier, an IEET Affiliate Scholar, has written dozens of often-controversial transhumanist / futurist articles for IEET, H+ Magazine, the World Future Society, and other publications, occasionally under his nom de plume, “Hank Hyena.” Recently he published his first book, Invent Utopia Now: Transhumanist Suggestions for the Pre-Singularity Era.

A journalist, Hank is the “Local Intelligence” columnist for the New York Times (San Francisco edition) and a frequent contributor to Past work includes a daily column for (“Naked World”), two columns for (“Urban Animal” and “Odd Barkings”), and a monthly column for SF Metropolitan (“Frisco Utopia”), plus numerous features.

Hank has also performed edgy solo shows; the SF Chronicle labeled him, “San Francisco’s performance art bad boy.” His poetry is anthologized in The Outlaw Bible of American Poetry, he’s been a SF Poetry Slam co-champion, and his performance pieces have toured eleven states and six international countries.

But, he’s also a very good person, and his heart is in the right place:

As an events producer, Hank instigated the SF DADA Festival, the SF Buddhist Festival, the Bay Area Muslim Performance Festival, the world’s first Atheist Film Festival, and North Beach Street Utopia. He also ran the “Hyena Comedy Institute” for five years, training stand-ups and producing 80+ shows.

Additionally, he founded The Kids’ Co-op Inc., a non-profit that launched two SF preschools and donated funds, food, and school supplies to ten foreign locales, primarily the Philippines, where seven hectares of agricultural land were purchased to enable a Mangyan village to self-subsist. Academically, he has a BA in History and an MA in Humanities/Religious Studies.

His only flaw is that he’s on the wrong side of the fence.

I’ve made it one of my goals to convert/subvert Hank.

More Lao Tzu, less Confucius.

Journalists are important to the Singularity, as someone has to do PR.

In any case, I enjoyed reading Amy Fox’s response, that was wicked =)

And I’ll repeat what I’ve said before in some of Hank’s other threads:

It’s the paradigm, and the underlying approach that makes this entire thing a treacherous slope to be on.

What fruit will it bear? What will you convince people of? The superiority of one ethnicity or another?

This competition first social order is about to be radicalized.

I’m just a messenger. I’m just a DRUMMER, calculating something important with my effigy.

In the virtual multiverse we are about to create, our collective intelligence, our Noosphere, our Global Village will outstrip any individual or cultural advantage anyone has.

The sum total of humanities knowledge is about to be available to anyone, anywhere, anytime (an interesting thought: I read that the number of WikiPedia’s contributors is declining, and I asked myself: is this because we are running out of things to contribute? Are we approaching the point where WikiPedia is nearly complete?)

I was talking to Andrea the other day, and she was telling me about how RAPM is a better measure than IQ anyway. But, I point this out only because I feel we are about to find entirely new models based on accelerating progress in understanding what intelligence is (in other words, I feel even RAPM is insufficient, even if it’s better than IQ).

What Hank is really doing, and may not realize it, is looking for ways to patch up old models so that they can remain viable in the future. He’s invested in the old paradigm.

Many people like this exist in the world, and when they start getting Social Transition Stress Disorder (aka Future Shock) they are going to need our help.

Oh, and btw, Hank, you really should join G+, I sent you an invite. The conversations there are wild smile

Posted by Hank Pellissier  on  08/30  at  10:05 PM

@ iPan - I got your invite to G+ and I think I joined.  But I haven’t checked out the conversations.

@ Matt - Sorry, but what you are accusing me of just isn’t true.  My links are not all to news stories as you imply, not in the original article anyway.  And I am not going to get into an argument with you, or anyone else really.

My article is my opinion based on my extensive personal observation, and on my focused reading on the topic, and there’s nothing particularly startling about it, I am saying what others have said before me, and I’m adding details to the hypothesis that haven’t yet been added. I checked out my article with a scholar who has written books about Confucianism, and it passed by him nicely, with compliments.

I still feel, as I told Amy, that if you have a problem with it, you might look inside yourself and maybe find a reason that I can’t personally fathom since I don’t know you.  And if I am wrong about that, I apologize, and I encourage you to keep reading elsewhere on this website, in search of other material that you can enjoy.

Thanks for participating and enjoy your look around.

Posted by post-post  on  08/30  at  11:00 PM

Agreed, Pete.
At any rate something that Confucius and Calvin had in common was:
they were both concerned more with obligations owed from individuals, than rights & prerogatives owed to individuals.
Confucius and Calvin weren’t much interested in people letting it all hang out; doing their own Thing; or Finding Themselves smile

Posted by Hank Pellissier  on  08/30  at  11:44 PM

@ Matt, Amy - regarding “personal bias” - and why your comments seem like a deja vu experience for me - I’ve written a variety of articles examining “cultures” for IEET. Here’s a partial list:

Feminism’s Social Side Effects

Israel’s Value to Transhumanism

Happiness, Freedom, Equality, Rudeness—welcome to Denmark!

The first article on top about Feminism - received 100+ comments, many extremely enraged, and all the enraged comments were from men.  Not surprisingly. Praising women (perceived by some as at the expense of men) angered a significant percentage of 50% of the population.

The next essay about Israel received 100+ comments as well, also quite enraged, most of them, with most of the supportive letters coming, not surprisingly, from either Israel or American Jews.  Writing a positive essay about Israel, I learned, pisses many people off.

The third article about Denmark received 100+ comments, but very few of them were negative, and my assumption is that no one is particularly threatened or angry with Danish people, and an article praising them doesn’t piss anyone off.  I am sure my “methodology” was similar for all three articles, but people only seem to find fault with my “methodology” if they are angry about the substance and conclusion of the article.  IMHO.

so you see, with my recent article about Confucian culture, that there are now some angry letters (again) and I suspect, based on previous experience, that it isn’t the methodology that is infuriating, but the content.  Forgive me if I’m wrong, but there’s an historical record that I’ve observed of my readers only finding fault with my methods if they don’t like the conclusions.

I’d like to end on a lighter note, which is this—my wife says my photo is terrible.  She says I shouldn’t expect anyone to give me any slack with a horrible photo like that.  I said, what difference does it make?  But perhaps I am being naive.  Let’s look at this last link here:

Singapore and the Singularity

That was a very popular article, written by an Asian woman.  I can’t help being envious of her photo, and name.  I am wondering, if my Confucius article had her name and her photo attached to it, would it have been better received by you?  Is my wife right?  Am I getting judged as someone who has no business writing about Confucianism in Asia because I am a white guy who has a dumb photo? (it was snapped at a very good price in Chinatown).

I don’t really expect an answer.  But I am happy sharing my suspicions. If you like, I encourage you to share with me your personal biases.  We all have them, and it is a better discussion if we just put them on the table.  Mine are quite normal, I am like most Americans, I suspect, I have some trepidation about East Asia’s advancing prosperity, some fears about the USA maybe not being #1 Nation in 5-20 years. My article praises some facets of this area’s philosophical foundation and that might be volatile… ?

Posted by Foo HL  on  08/31  at  01:00 AM

Confucian concepts—asserted in the Analects, plus five scriptures and additional tomes—include high esteem for education, filial piety, perseverance, humility, empathy, self-control, respect for one’s elders and ancestors, adherence to rules of behavior and authority, and correctness and reciprocity in all social relationships. His vision was to create virtuous individuals who could harmoniously co-exist within families and increasing larger groups: villages, provinces, kingdoms.

It is true that the basic teaching of Confucius (KungFuZhi or Master Kung) is embedded in Chinese culture.  These cultural elements help shaping the individuals’ inner character who value ancestral linage, family honor and dignity, diligence, thrifty, strive for knowledge/skills, loyalty, moderation, etc.  That explains the success of many East Asian individuals and nations. 

But the Confucian Concept is not the only contributory factor to “East Asian Success”.  It is the INCLUSIVENESS of an individual or nation to incorporate the good external values such as EMPHASIS IN SCIENTIFIC INQUIRY, DEMOCRACY,  THE QUEST FOR EXCELLENCE, etc. that spur their blooming success and resilience.

Posted by jradetzky  on  08/31  at  02:56 AM

I’ve been teaching at a South Korean university for the past 1.5 years and I must say that students here are quite average and even mediocre. I was expecting very smart and motivated students in my classes, but they just don’t care to make an effort. They seem to forget Confucius after they graduate from high school. So disappointing.

Posted by Amy Fox  on  08/31  at  03:53 AM

I disagree that the research methods were the same for all the cited articles. I also disagree that but “there’s an historical record… of [your] readers only finding fault with [your] methods if they don’t like the conclusions.”

The Denmark article was a series of monovariate, quantifiable statements coupled with an interview. It’s true that comments were generally friendly. But it’s kind of hard for people to get angry with an authour over citing some statistics without a hypothesis (which is fine), then hosting an interview where the interviewee does most of the talking.

The Israel article is mostly anecdotal evidence, with some references to celebrities. It argues that Israel has a lot to offer Transhumanism. In my opinion, it lacks focus on the ethics of Israeli policy. IEET readers tend to view emerging technologies (such as transhumanistic technologies) as only being worthwhile when they are deployed ethically. So to say that Israel has a lot to offer transhumanism, but to overlook ethics is going to anger IEET readers. But the responses were not so much over methods as over the lack of key ethical critiques.

The Feminism article - in this the top 10 sources are present every time. Yet in the above article, the top 10s are inconsistently redacted. In the feminism article, unlike the above article, the references are specific, reputable, quantifiable, and non-anecdotal. This said, I’m not sure about the statistical soundness of some of the alleged correlations in the article concerning feminism. Since that article was measuring ordinal variables, it would have been possible and simple to run an analysis and produce a harder numerical indication of the relation of the two variables than just mentioning that these countries are in the top 10 in a given case (why 10?) and others are not. And I believe it would have been prudent to explain why those particular data sets were chosen. Sadly, commenters didn’t much take issue with this. I’m sorry so many of the comments were negative. But, from what I gathered, the criticism were generally ideological, not over methods - methods I believe were also flawed, but not as deeply as the methods in the above article.

Have people criticized this article more than Ms Leis’s because of your Whiteness? I don’t know about them, but I can speak for myself. I found Ms.Leis’s article cogent, focused, thorough and nuanced. But I do not find these things to be true of the above article. There were some facets I wish Ms. Leis mentioned in greater detail, such as the anti-discourse methods deployed by the ruling party. But the absence of this information did not compromise her thesis: that Singapore is a clear singularity candidate. Her article does not endorse Singapore. Unlike the Israel article, it is even critical of injustices in/by the country under study. To contrast, I feel that the article above roundly endorses Confucianism and largely avoids nuance or criticism save for a brief nod to a lack of gender equality and democracy - overlooking the ageism, classism and, more importantly, the nostalgia that runs through The Analects.

Additionally, even if it is the case that comments are more likely to be critical when people disagree, that would not mean that these criticisms are in error.

To answer your question, my personal emotional reactions (“biases?”) related to this article (and comments) include:

A dislike of anecdotal evidence being used to convince when a more rigorous analysis is possible.

A dislike of measuring IQ by ethnicity. I have found that such testing has a consistent history of using bad research methods to entrench stereotypes surrounding race, intelligence, and the intersection of the two.

America/UK-centred world-models. I live in Canada, don’t see my country as an across-the-board #1, but sure think we have a better present and future than the USA or UK and don’t see what all the fuss is about these two powers in declines of their own making. It’s not a mystery - it’s a clear consequence of bad policy.

A dislike of pitching classist/feudal, sexist nostalgia as a panacea. Be it Confucian or Protestant.

A dislike of the search to find special cultural explanations when non-Western nations achieves parity with the West - explanations that don’t investigate alternate causes like: “investment,” “education,” “infrastructural development,” or “having a few decades without war, occupation, mass arrests and/or famine.”

A dislike of the drive for “success,” when “success” does not include “sutstainable justice.”

I do not like the methods in the above article. I also do not like the thrust of it. But the latter does not invalidate the former.

Posted by CygnusX1  on  08/31  at  08:53 AM


Quote - “I am sure my “methodology” was similar for all three articles, but people only seem to find fault with my “methodology” if they are angry about the substance and conclusion of the article. IMHO.

so you see, with my recent article about Confucian culture, that there are now some angry letters (again) and I suspect, based on previous experience, that it isn’t the methodology that is infuriating, but the content. Forgive me if I’m wrong, but there’s an historical record that I’ve observed of my readers only finding fault with my methods if they don’t like the conclusions.”

So.. perhaps your conclusions should be questioned?

I think you may need to self-reflect also, and if you re-read your own comment above, you may see that your “methodology” may indeed be the common factor why readers disagree and criticise, and that you just do not view it this way? Yes all views are subjective, although we can try to focus more objectivity and ultimately resolve “all” debates in a Hegelian way, thesis + antithesis = the whole (picture). This final solution is undeniable?

Amy has shot you down effectively, and your final response to such criticisms is always the same - thanking contributors for their comments and politely hinting that they “move on”, often with some subtle personal sleight?

For example - “Thanks, though, for contributing to this discussion, and I welcome you to look through other essays here at IEET - I hope that you’ll find others that you will enjoy more. You can try some of my other essays as well - I have about 18 posted, many on feminist topics, maybe you’d like those better.”

iPan may have nailed it, that your best of intentions may be outmoded in the near future? To Cherry pick from the best of cultures is in fact, the true meaning of the term “Heresy”. All constructive/destructive deviations, and evolutionary religions and philosophies and scientific hypothesis may be deemed initially as heresies? Was not Jesus, the prophet Mani, the Buddha a heretic in their time? (Of these, only the Buddha survived persecution and execution).

Your intentions are not new, and many have tried to analyse the best from world cultures and incorporate what they view as the best in an attempt to change global consciousness and to change the world for the better, in fact, that is what many of us are indeed trying to do here? And there is nothing wrong with strong personal/subjective views for global change. You must therefore accept all criticisms, cast aside your victim status and face your persecutors. Stick to your guns, yet be open minded enough to see criticisms constructively, especially concerning your methodology?

You often present your articles not from a point of open debate, but often from a position of certainty, substantiating the proposals you have already accepted for yourself as truth with selective statistics, and thus wish that others will accept these as fact without criticisms? Well I’m afraid that we all have important points to make and contributions to offer, and hopefully all of these taken collectively, (Hegel again), can lead to some real progress?

” Why is “Confucian Culture” so wildly successful?”
” Feminism’s Social Side Effects”
” Israel’s Value to Transhumanism”
” Happiness, Freedom, Equality, Rudeness—welcome to Denmark!”

All of the above articles are presented as statements, obviously to stimulate debate and response, (which you duly receive). Criticisms are to be expected. And yet you already know all of this, we know all of this, I need not point it out at all. You encourage response, yet are not open to criticisms, or may be you are just too sensitive?

Concerning Confucius..

I did venture myself to explore this philosophy briefly many years ago, and there is some value to it, especially concerning integrity, tenacity, duty, personal responsibility, and even aspiring to Universal values and unity, peace and harmonious existence, (applied conformity).

However, I quickly dismissed it as outdated with respect to today’s democratic world view. I therefore decided it was not for me. Filial piety only goes so far for me! Chinese imperialism has no place in our modern world, and although the Confucian view towards education, study and merit is based upon meritocracy, (also not a bad thing, we should encourage the best, and thus reward the best), promotions in these ancient times were more often based upon nepotism, even though these Confucian ideals were embraced? It is easy to embrace Confucian ethics and yet still be a hypocrite regarding favouritism, nepotism and family.

I do say this though, the Confucian ideal of absolutism, though naïve, is still up for debate where the possibility of a Coherent Extrapolated Volition, (CEV), is concerned. Would we not want any possible absolute ruler, (Emperor), to be wise, compassionate, sedate, rational and thoughtful - yet still answerable to a democratic process?

And was not Hegel also an imperialist?

Problems of Transhumanism: Liberal Democracy vs. Technocratic Absolutism


Note also that the “Golden Rule” is often attributed to Confucius, yet it does not originate from him, and may be found in most other cultures and religious ethics. Therefore it should be duly noted that both the “Golden” and “Silver” rule should be attributable to Confucianism alone.

The Doctrine of the Mean

” The superior man does what is proper to the station in which he is; he does not desire to go beyond this.”

““Therefore the administration of government lies in getting proper men. Such men are to be got by means of the ruler’s own character. That character is to be cultivated by his treading in the ways of duty. And the treading those ways of duty is to be cultivated by the cherishing of benevolence.

“Benevolence is the characteristic element of humanity, and the great exercise of it is in loving relatives. Righteousness is the accordance of actions with what is right, and the great exercise of it is in honoring the worthy. The decreasing measures of the love due to relatives, and the steps in the honor due to the worthy, are produced by the principle of propriety.”


Quote - ” I’d like to end on a lighter note, which is this—my wife says my photo is terrible. She says I shouldn’t expect anyone to give me any slack with a horrible photo like that. I said, what difference does it make? But perhaps I am being naive.”

Indeed! Your wife is wise! .. I find that photo both scary and disturbing. At least have the decency to draw a moustache and some glasses on it!


Posted by CygnusX1  on  08/31  at  09:47 AM

to correct an error from above..

Note also that the “Golden Rule” is often attributed to Confucius, yet it does not originate from him, and may be found in most other cultures and religious ethics. Therefore it should be duly noted that both the “Golden” and “Silver” rule should NOT be attributable to Confucianism alone.


Posted by post-post  on  08/31  at  09:51 AM

“adherence to rules of behavior and authority’

However Confucius had a rebellious streak: he was spotted once wearing bellbottom trousers and a turtleneck sweater.

Posted by iPan  on  08/31  at  10:38 AM

lol at the photo comments.

Your eyes are open too wide and your smile looks glued on. Think “American Psycho”. I’d go bitch at the photographer for that photo.

People who have good photos here: George, David, Andrea, Ben.

Since I won’t pretend to be as eloquent as Cygnus or Amy, I’ll just repeat my generalization: more Lao Tzu, less Confused-us.

(The reason I haven’t commented on the Singapore article is literally because I know nothing about Singapore. I had to look it up on a map because it confused me - I wasn’t even sure what country it was part of.)

Posted by iPan  on  08/31  at  11:14 AM

Don’t feel too bad about the photo Hank, Edward Miller and Richard Eskow also have terrible pics.

Edward looks like another ‘American Psycho’ also, and Richard looks like a used car salesman.  wink

Maybe all three of you should think about updating them smile

Posted by post-post  on  08/31  at  12:37 PM

It’s not always bad. A woman says she keeps a bad photo at her company’s site because her husband might get jealous if she were to use a better one.
So there’s all sorts of reasons.

Posted by Hank Pellissier  on  08/31  at  01:36 PM

@ Amy - it’s interesting that you can pinpoint differences in the methodology of the five articles that you’ve now read.  To me, they all look largely the same, a series of charts or stats with an opinion/explanation provided as to why such-and-such nation is performing as indicated.

It’s not surprising to me that you prefer the “methodology” of the Denmark and Feminist articles over the Israel and Confucian articles, because you don’t have disagreements with Denmark or Feminism, but you do have contentions with Israeli policy and with “measuring IQ by ethnicity.” [BTW, I didn’t analyze “ethnicity” I discussed “Culture.” big difference.] I’m rather glad I didn’t refer you to another article I wrote recently, “Why is the IQ of Ashkenazi Jews So High?” because you might have disliked that for two reasons.

I’m impressed that you have now read and reviewed five articles and I have a proposal for you: why don’t you write an article for IEET?  You obviously have a critical eye, high standards and a slew of opinions.  I encourage you to write something.  Don’t be surprised - I do this all the time… I talked Miriam into writing the Singapore article and Peter Wicks into writing his Europe article.  Now it’s your turn. If you have ethical/transhumanist ideas you want to write up, you can email me at, or better yet, email the blog editor, Mike Treder, at

Thanks again for your participation and welcome aboard.

Posted by Hank Pellissier  on  08/31  at  01:53 PM

@ CygnusX1 - Thanks for your comments as well. BTW, I do my best to answer commenters but I have gotten perhaps 1,000 IEET emails in the last 8 months, so if I suggest politely to people to “move on” it is actually because I really don’t have time enough to construct long rebuttals to every absolute stranger who disagrees with me. It’s fun, but too time-consuming.

I also think your depiction of me as “not open to criticism” is quite false.  My articles usually provoke criticism because I intentionally choose topics that illicit controversy. I could just write articles like my bamboo essay, “This Grass Is Great For the Globe” but there’s little debate there, little argument, not much fun.  I look for ideas where I am perhaps going to be in disagreement with the majority of readers; I think having 60-70% of the readership opposing my POV is just about the right ratio. I think there’s value in presenting provocative ideas and I’m happy to do that.

Also, your dismissal of COnfucianism, IMO, is too hasty. You’re throwing out the baby with the bathwater. So is Amy. You’re seeing the glass half-empty, instead of half-full.  Well, that’s enough cliches for now, but, my point is - COnfucianism has it’s faults - patriarchy being the worst - but it has it’s merits as well. 

BTW, I don’t know why Amy keeps calling Confucianism “classist” - she’s incorrect on that one, China had a quasi-meritocratic civil service exam selecting its Mandarins for 2+ thousand years while Europe was still exploiting serfs in its feudal society.  Your decision to toss Confucianist thought into the dumpster is rather common in H+ where everyone is atheistic - I’m an atheist, too - but I think we need to recognize - and keep - values that arose from religious sources.  I know that Giulio Prisco might agree with me on that, and he seldom agrees with me on anything.

Admittedly, I am a biased parent, so I like Confucianist ideas regarding filial piety, respect for elders, children doing their homework conscientiously, and children kindly taking care of their aged parents instead of heaving them into fetid convalescent hospitals to rot.

regarding my photo, I actually do wear glasses, but they reflect immensely and make me look like a hungry praying mantis when I’m photographed. And, I don’t do moustaches. I eat sloppily, so I’d be carrying around detritus allday if I had a “caterpillar” under my nose.  My wife says my photo makes me look “Republican” though.  Very worrisome. On my Facebook page you can see me at Burning Man looking a bit more anarchic.  Not that I am anarchic, don’t get your hopes up, iPan.

Posted by Hank Pellissier  on  08/31  at  01:55 PM

@ iPan - You are biased as well.  You have totally dumped me recently for Andrea because you prefer her photo.  You say you like her “intelligence” notions better than mine, but I think it’s just physical.  This is all getting quite tawdry.

Posted by iPan  on  08/31  at  02:03 PM

Just took a look at your FB pic…it is much better smile

Posted by iPan  on  08/31  at  02:25 PM



Actually, I like the fact that she’s a scientist. And, while I admit to having a hypersexual gene, I am also a confessed cybersexual: I no longer have real interest in pre-singular humans, although I can find attractiveness in them from time to time, I consider the meat sacks obsolete, the unaugmented mind primitive, and human genetic baggage frustratingly brutal and animalistic.
Andrea’s articles often focus on the neurological basis, rather than the cultural.

But, you’re right, I hold biases. Primarily, my bias is against Authority. I am an unabashed enemy of control, authority, and the State….down to every cell in my body smile

(how did I end up with sub-script in my last post, when I only tried to use bold)

Posted by Hank Pellissier  on  08/31  at  03:18 PM

@ iPan - uuuhhhh?!  I am assuming that there are photos somewhere of non-meat sack, highly-mind-augmented… cyber-beings…? that you find… alluring?  I’m not asking for links, just curious…. Maybe… videos?

But now, back to the topic - where were we?  Confucius.  What an ancient meat-sack he was.  iPan, quite unfair to toss in this distraction.

Posted by iPan  on  08/31  at  03:57 PM


So, the only thing I have to add is that the internet seems to be making these kinds of differences, real or not, moot.

Geographic location, ethnicity, culture, individual differences.

The exo-cortex (i.e. the WikiMind, the Noosphere, etc.) is exponentially smarter than any culture, or any individual, on Earth.

Boundaries between nations are dissolving because they are irrelevant.

3D rapid prototyping and solar power soon make differences in economy irrelevant (amongst other techs too).

Here’s a Bjork video:

Posted by Mark  on  08/31  at  05:02 PM

A critique of Confuciansim by John Chan

“In relation to social life, Confucianism was a strict code of behaviour that placed everyone in a hierarchy of personal dependence and subordination: son to father, wife to husband, servant to master and above all, everyone to the emperor. Anyone who revolted against his or her superior could be punished without mercy. In later centuries, Confucian dogmas justified barbaric practices, such as the foot binding of women, an element of their subservience to men.”

“Under Oriental despotism, the productive forces stagnated. Despite the rise and fall of dynasties over 2,000 years, China’s social structure remained substantially unchanged. Under these conditions, Confucius’s ideology enjoyed a privileged existence. With its idealist and even mythical conceptions of a divine social order, Confucianism acted as a bulwark against the development of scientific thought.”

Posted by Hank Pellissier  on  08/31  at  05:28 PM

@ Mark—oh good grief Mark, you got that off a Communist website. 
Of course they don’t like Confucius, they were trying to overthrow his deep influence.

If you want to read a variety of opinions, you can read the links I posted, or you can otherwise divert yourself by just watch iPan’s link above yours.  He got me watching all of Bjork’s youtube videos and they were totally and wonderfully distracting.

regarding Confucius, oh sure, you can blame him for this and that, but my opinion… I stated it above, for Cygnus.  I think Master Kong had some wisdom to offer, and that has been retained.  What is no longer useful, has been or will be discarded.

China, by the way, is no longer anti-Confucius.  They have set up 300+ Confucius Institutes around the world. The old guy is back.  Quite dusty and still, I am finding out, rather poorly received in many circles, but I think he still has some value.  BTW, there are some great “Confucius Says” jokes out there that are hysterically funny.  The best are as good as the best limericks.

Posted by Mark  on  08/31  at  05:45 PM


Why not try to address the points raised in the article?

BTW, without a historical materialist analysis, that is Marxist analysis, you cannot understand many of the issues that you are trying to analyse.  Which is why your articles are generally superficial and mistaken.

Posted by Robert B. Livingston  on  08/31  at  06:44 PM

The WSWS is a very reliable place to read news and analysis from a sincere and educated internationalist Socialistic perspective. 

One does not have to be a Socialist to discover that the website regularly provides profound insight into current political, social, and economic events. John Chan is a very knowledgeable writer about Asian history and economics who I myself think highly of, and read regularly. (Look for my review of the website at

I did not plan to jump back into this discussion, but I must defend the WSWS!

I found most of the discussion here thought provoking, and am glad to see that it is lively and
generally serious.

A keen Socialist perspective, I think, does not detract from it!

Posted by Hank Pellissier  on  08/31  at  07:25 PM

@ oh good grief for the 2nd time, what are we arguing about now?
I am happy for you that you can apparently do a “Marxist analysis”
and that you feel very wise in doing so. 

Obviously, we all bring to any discussion whatever we know and whatever we have experienced and whatever we have read.  It is not particularly polite, or productive, for you to assume that your body of knowledge trumps my body of knowledge. 

The emails I have gotten from people who actually know anything about Confucius have been quite complimentary.  (I always spam out to a wide community)  It seems like you at least think you know something about Marxism, but I suspect that you know very little about Confucianism, except what you have read through a Marxist lens?

I’m not going to wean you away from your belief system in a brief email.  So I will just end with a prediction that I made in the article:
“we’re all going to learn more about Confucius in the near future” because his influence has been quite important, and valuable, to a part of the world that is rapidly becoming a world-leader.

EastAsia is rising, and an effort to understand it seems practical.

Posted by Peter Wicks  on  08/31  at  07:34 PM

“The exo-cortex (i.e. the WikiMind, the Noosphere, etc.) is exponentially smarter than any culture, or any individual, on Earth.

Boundaries between nations are dissolving because they are irrelevant.

3D rapid prototyping and solar power soon make differences in economy irrelevant (amongst other techs too).”

Yes and no. iPan I think this to some extent reflects your bias against authority, combined with wishful thinking. Furthermore, even if nations are dissolving we can still learn from which ones have to date done better and as a result of which cultural influences. So Hank’s analysis is still relevant, and apart from the caveat I introduced above I haven’t seen an argument here that really invalidates it. Plenty of reasons to be sceptical, but nothing that really refutes the idea that Confucian thought may have had, and still have, a positive influence on the sophistication and intelligence of people living in cultures where it has taken root.

Re Confucius and modern China, recently they erected a statue of Confucius in Tiananmen square, which was later unexpectedly removed, presumably because hard-liners in the CPC were nervous. Probably something to do with the ongoing succession battle. And the Arab spring makes them very nervous - at some point they even banned the word jasmine! But indeed the overall trend, which may or may not be sustainable, is towards opening and embracing traditional Chinese values, in particular elements of Confucianism, which never really went away in China (any more than Orthodox Christianity went away in the USSR).

Posted by iPan  on  08/31  at  09:32 PM


iPan I think this to some extent reflects your bias against authority, combined with wishful thinking.

I can argue logically why authority is fundamentally flawed, but this isn’t the place.

As to the wishful thinking part, well well well, just look around at the effects social media are having. I regularly converse with dozens of people from every part of the glove on a daily basis. We trade and exchange ideas at the speed of light.

While nation states still exist, bit by bit they are becoming irrelevant. The pace of change is too fast for them to keep up with.

Furthermore, even if nations are dissolving we can still learn from which ones have to date done better and as a result of which cultural influences.

Yep, you may notice that the only thing I’ve attacked is the idea that this approach to study, through IQ, standardized testing, and so on, is one built on the last centuries mode of thinking, or paradigm.

The only thing I’ve criticized Hank for is his entire paradigm. This way of thinking is outmoded by technology.

This is the Global Village now.

I’m not saying get rid of culture, I’m saying stop pitting them against each other.

Posted by iPan  on  08/31  at  09:57 PM

Sorry, just wanted to clarify further.

You’ll often hear phrases about “the world shrinking”, or becoming “flat”.

This is all I’m alluding to.

I’m a Netizen now, not an American. I am influenced by people from nearly every continent in the world, and they exchange cultural ideas with me on a daily basis. Some of those ideas become part of my own psyche, and likewise some of the information I exchange with them becomes part of theirs.

Now, I am part Jewish, Chinese, Danish, and American. I am Australian, Korean, and Egyptian. Because I have shared some part of culture with all these peoples, and they have shared with me. This incestuous sharing of cultural information across the digital space has blended our cultures (and continues to do so at an accelerating pace), so what does it mean for people to be bound to a geographic location?

Of course, it still means something. But with each passing day, it means less than the day before.

Posted by iPan  on  08/31  at  10:15 PM

So a person’s “clan” or “phyle” wink is becoming less about where a person exists in physical space, and more about the ideas and memes one chooses. An infocology.

Hank’s article is based on the old way of thinking about groups of people based upon the Nation States they live in, and while it’s still somewhat true, I’ve been pointing out is becoming less true over time, and at a very rapid clip.

Who’s to say I don’t belong to the group of “Confucians” he is referring to in the article? Just the fact that I live in California? With this blending of cultures, I could be just as “Confucian” as someone living in China.

Of course, as a disclaimer, I’m not insisting that this is completely true of the world at this time, only that I am speaking of the future, the direction the world is going in, and more importantly, about how fast it is getting there.

Essentially, I am saying the model Hank uses to measure the world is obsolete.

Posted by Hank Pellissier  on  08/31  at  10:43 PM

@ Robert Livingston and Mark—okay, I read the WSWS article, it’s a slanted opinion piece, nothing wrong with that, so is mine.  The one part that stuck out for me is this:

“China need(s) a new ethical basis to survive in the face of growing crime rates, unemployment, official corruption, social polarisation between rich and poor and the lack of social welfare.”

And so, they have chosen Confucianism, as a new/old ethical code to improve their society.  Everything they want to accomplish with Confucianism is something that all readers here agree is quite positive. They’re not bringing back Confucianism because they want to bring back foot-binding. 

@ Peter, thank you for your sensible comments.  Perhaps we are both moderates?  I used to despise the notion of being a political moderate, it seemed so much more passionate and committed to rant from a far fringe position.  But now I am happy to embrace the middle.

When I hear readers exclaim that all past traditions must be obliterated to make way for some new as yet articulated H+ philosophy, I think of extremists like Pol Pot, who clumsily reasoned that all intellectuals must be extinguished, and intellectuals wear glasses, so everyone with glasses must be exterminated.  The black-and-white notion that imperfect philosophies need to be entirely discarded seems destructive and infantile to me.  Better I think to make reforms and changes while maintaining what actually works in a society.

I must also say that I find radical marginally-educated atheists quite boring.  I am familiar with atheists, I produced the world’s first Atheist Film Festival in SF two years ago, but… it isn’t very interesting listening to people who just want to complain about moral codes, without offering any ethics in return. 

If readers haven’t read any Confucius, I urge you to take a peak at some maxims.  Don’t feel embarrassed about extracting wisdom from a person who’s been dead for aeons. Being cutting-edge-trendy-with radical-thoughts is fun for a while, but it is, in my moderate opinion, far shallower than appreciating and understanding history.

Posted by post-post  on  08/31  at  11:06 PM

“BTW, without a historical materialist analysis, that is Marxist analysis, you cannot understand many of the issues that you are trying to analyse.”

This off-topic, however Marxism IMO is outmoded 19th century ideology; our thinking because Marx, Engels and subsequent theorists were ahead of the curve, that there haven’t been better thinkers since the 19th century. What is so special about a little man named Karl Marx who died before the 20th century? sure, he was very original for his time—but is such saying all that much?
The amount of false consciousness I witness leads me to think it is hopeless at this time: the bad politics and religion infused into minds is enough to last several long decades. What a terrible waste.

Posted by post-post  on  08/31  at  11:56 PM

... perhaps living in the Midwest leads me to think the situation is worse than it appears (and naturally IEET is not a Pessimists Club). But what I do witness every day all day is vulgar Darwinism combined with tasteless religion; a witch’s brew of outdated religion and ideology: though it is an insult to harmless Wiccans to call it a witch’s brew!
At least Confucians (who are not organized to begin with) don’t push their faith as many Westerners do. Christians are told to spread their Gospel to the world—even if we’ve heard it all before a hundred times or more. It’s almost as if they are going out of their way to push outdated religion, yet it is worse than that… they just don’t know any different or any better.
A doctor told me he had to work 16 hours a day as an intern and he dropped out. I asked him why the internship required a crushing burden of 16 hours a day and he replied that those doctors who ran the internship had had to do 16 hours per diem decades ago, so they passed the burden on to the next generation of physicians. This tradition of passing crushing burdens on to subsequent generations is what constitutes the world of religion and politics (politics gave birth to religion, as you know).
Those at the bottom are so infused with outmoded religion and politics it will take decades to flush it out of their minds; there is no Roto Rooter for rancid memes of the mind. You can cut a tumor off someone’s body but not out of their mind.
PC does not help either; I call those at the bottom ‘miscreants’ because it is awkward, smarmy, and dodgy to call them something along the lines of “behaviorally aggressive poverty-stricken substance abusers”. Marxism is inherently, though out of necessity, PC, which contributes to the inability to communicate at any level, anywhere. To attempt to communicate with workers the baby-talk of vulgarized Marxism was used—but it is exhausted in the 21st century. With all the good minds of today can’t we do better than that? unfortunately, none of us knows. In many ways we are in fact walking anachronisms.

Posted by Peter Wicks  on  09/01  at  03:58 AM

By the way, I thoroughly recommend Jonathan Haidt’s critical analysis of classical wisdom (including Confucius and Lao-Tze), benchmarked against modern empirical psychology, presented in his The Happiness Hypothesis.

@iPan.. Interesting comments, thanks. I think I agree with much of what you write. I just don’t think Hank is quite “measuring the world” in the way you think he is. The distinction is between, on the one hand, comparing past/existing cultures (to the extent that they can still be considered distinct) and discussing their apparent effects, and on the other hand “pitting them against each other”. I just don’t think that’s what he’s doing, but it’s interesting that so many people read that in.

Posted by iPan  on  09/01  at  09:15 AM

Hank has described himself in the past as a “pamphleteer”. Think about the connotations of that word. He is a journalist.

Of course, this is a great profession to be in, and has value to the future.

Knowing that Hank is pamphleteer, and a good writer to boot, I would prefer he were handing out my pamphlets.

But, a few comments from him:

How successful are today’s “Confucian” nations? A+ Astonishing. In IQ, the scholar’s states easily outsmart the rest of the planet.

Why do Confucian cultures outperform their opponents?

I am like most Americans, I suspect, I have some trepidation about East Asia’s advancing prosperity, some fears about the USA maybe not being #1 Nation in 5-20 years.

Notice the common theme?

Everything focused on competition, ranking.

Blue ribbons and gold medals and valedictorians.

And then there is Hank’s history of posts, which show a similar character.

Compare this to Andrea Kuszewski’s articles on intelligence, that at least focus on biological and neurological basis.

This is cheerleading for a culture/ethnicity, and is the reason why it draws negative criticism.

I did the same thing to Hank’s article on Ashkenazi intelligence, and now I’m doing the same thing to this one, for the same reasons.

I hold in suspicion the very world view from which this originates. I don’t necessarily dispute the facts (although I giggled as Amy did) - or perhaps I should call them factoids, because in the end, what is going to come of it? So what. I see some charts and some numbers, and at the end of the day, I’m still a Californian, I’m still a Netizen, so these quasi-interesting factoids make no difference to me, and I doubt they make much difference to other Americans.

They’re talking points. The real difference is made by the adoption of technology. Not Nation States as sports teams.

Posted by Hank Pellissier  on  09/01  at  09:46 AM

@ post-post - thanks for your comments on the link between Marxism and PC.  I am quite in agreement with you.

@ Peter - to be fair, there is just a very fine slender line between:
1. “comparing cultures and discussing their apparent effects”
2. “pitting them against each other”
It is understandable that readers think I am doing both, although I usually don’t state #2 directly. It’s easy to see how, “pitting cultures against each other” can inflame people, who might rise to the defense of their own culture? I am comfortable with that, and in the case of this East Asia article, I can detail a variety of categories that East Asia seems superior to the West in—

1. why is East Asian longevity generally superior to USA and Europe?
  Diet? Why can’t we duplicate the positive aspects of their diet for increased life span? Or, is their longer life span due to it greater respect for their elders?  Do we want to emulate that?

2. In the USA, why is Asian-American academic achievement higher than almost every other culture? except perhaps Jewish?  What can we learn from East Asians to improve our children’s academic performance? Or is this not important to us?

3. Why is Asian-American divorce rate lower?  Why is their rate of incarceration lower? Their rate of homelessness? Is this important to us?

4. Is there a set of ethics that East Asians adhere to that guides their behavior in positive directions? Is Confucianism part of that set?  If so, would it be sensible for non-East Asians to examine Confucianism, to learn from it?  Or, is Confucianism simply incompatible with our own traditions? If so, why?

5. What are the “ethical traditions” of the mainstream West, anyway?  Are they still working for us?  Should they be reformed in any way?  How?

Posted by Mark  on  09/01  at  01:39 PM

We do not need to look to Confucianism to answer the questions posed.  We only need to embrace scientific methods for the solutions that we need.

1) Is commercial farming and the food industry in alignment with the scientific findings on diet and health?  How can this be addressed?

2) How can we address the issues of power and respect in inter-personal relationships and society?

3) Are there institiutional mechanisms in place that facilitate academic success for some and failure for others?

4) Sould we abolish marriage so that men and women can have freer and more equal relationships?

5) How can we address poverty and inequality so that there is less crime and homelessness?

6) What are the guiding democratic principles which should guide our relationships, economic and otherwise?

Posted by Amy Fox  on  09/01  at  01:48 PM

In response to:

“It’s not surprising to me that you prefer the “methodology” of the Denmark and Feminist articles over the Israel and Confucian articles, because you don’t have disagreements with Denmark or Feminism,...”

Objection 1 - I have tried to base my commentary on a detailed analysis of an article refrained from speculating on authours’s motives. I do this because I find reading analysis provides me thorough, concise results. But interpersonal assumptions are usually wrong, and they makes the discussion into one about *who* is writing rather than what they are writing. I do not feel that this courtesy has been returned.

Objection 2 - Actually, I have disagreements with some schools of feminism and some of Denmark’s social qualities

Objection 3 - My above comments have already explained how the methods in these articles vary in quality. Given this, a mild preference for less-flawed over deeply-flawed makes sense.

Your comment asserts
“[BTW, I didn’t analyze “ethnicity” I discussed “Culture.” big difference.]”

Objection 1 - The article (on Confucian nations) sepculates that “Genetically, the population increase of brainy Confucianists could account for their higher IQs today. Europeans did exactly the opposite….”

Objeciton 2 - The article cites a study of “Chinese”/“White” IQ tests as proof of its claims. (I add quotes because I’d still like to know the boundaries of these terms within the study)

Objection 3 - It’s not a “big difference.” As far as the definitions I’ve read go, “an ethnicity” and “a really old culture” are pretty congruent terms.

To answer:

“...why don’t you write an article for IEET? You obviously have a critical eye, high standards and a slew of opinions. I encourage you to write something. Don’t be surprised - I do this all the time…”

Having been invited before, I was planning on writing anyway. The circumstances of my invitation were similar to what has transpired here, but in that case, I felt that my input was better heard. I do have “critical eye, high standards and a slew of opinions” but I try to combine these to ensure that my opinions meet critical scrutiny and fill my standards before I publish them. For these and other reasons, I will likely submit as a guest blogger from another site as soon as that site is up and running.

Posted by Hank Pellissier  on  09/01  at  02:51 PM

@ Mark - thanks for providing a very nice list of what could be done to improve a society.  You are correct, there is no absolute need to include Confucianism in doing that, but I don’t see why there is an absolute need not to. Traditions maintain a sense of continuity in a culture, a sense of respecting the history of where we’ve all come from.  China has traditionally been a nation that honored its ancestors and what they revered. I would find it rather rootless to grow up in a place that discarded all potential of wisdom from antiquity and only sought solutions in science.  But that’s just me.

I have an affection for history - others, like you, perhaps find history just a wretched narrative of injustice and primitive thinking.  Which it is, but it’s also, for me, much more than that. But I commend you on your list and I regard your approach as quite valid. A scientific approach will work especially for those who connect best with scientific thinking. But for other people, art, music, literature, history, architecture, food, even (possibly) religion, these facets of culture… it’s nice to employ them and use them, if possible, as we march into the future.

@ Amy - I’m sorry that you feel that I’ve been discourteous in my assumptions, but you do have biases that you eventually revealed - disliking IQ comparisons - and those biases, IMO, perhaps (often) keep one from being objective. When I’m debating someone about my articles, it’s time-efficient for me to find out what their biases are upfront. I’m sorry that you think my methodology was sloppy, I disagree, but I must admit that you seem to have read my essays quite carefully, probably more carefully than me! 

But back to the biases… obviously, people who don’t like my conclusions are going to pick apart my method of arriving at them. I get, frankly, quite bored arguing about “methodology” - I’d rather talk about the biases people have, what they’re afraid of, what they want the world to be like, etc. Mark, it appears, is a Marxist, so now I understand where he is coming from, why he doesn’t like Confucianism. But you remain a cipher to me. I have no idea what you want the world to be. So let me know, if you wish.

Me? I like what seems to be Confucianism’s emphasis on close family and extended family ties, thirst for knowledge, respect for elders (I am serious when I say I envy Asian-Americans decision not to use convalescent hospitals so readily), hard work, perseverance, and general respect for others.

All I know about you is that you dislike articles that have what you consider to be sloppy methodology.  I’d enjoy hearing you articulate something else about your vision of what you’d like the world to be like.  Plus, I’d really like to stop talking about methodology.

Posted by Peter Wicks  on  09/01  at  10:10 PM

@Hank.. Point taken, I guess “pitting them against each other” can itself have two meanings: there’s creative competition and then there’s seeking to be divisive. I don’t think you’re trying to do the latter, right?

@iPan.. “The real difference is made by the adoption of technology. Not Nation States as sports teams.” Are you seriously suggesting that adoption of technology is the ONLY thing that makes a real difference in human affairs? I would find that implausible. Beyond the “factoids” are serious questions about the influence of ideas (such as those associated with Confucius) on human behaviour and welfare.

By the way I’d be interested in your perspective on my idea that human intention could reverse the second law of thermodynamics. I’m pretty convinced that the second law is less fundamental than has traditionally been assumed (by physicists). But to what extent can we, present-day humans, influence the overall shape of the future by making choices? Are we bound to some predetermined scenario (whether “thermal death”, a technology-driven Omega point or the “rational suicide” scenario that we had some fun with a few months ago), or do we get to choose? What role do ideas (including those associated with Confucius) play in this context?

Another thought: is one difference between you and Hank simply a question of the timescale you are looking at. I get the impression Hank is looking more at the near future, you more at the far future. Obviously one requires different paradigms for different timescales, right?

Posted by Peter Wicks  on  09/01  at  10:17 PM

PS How likely is it that competition won’t be a feature of the far future in any case? And how desirable would that be? (Question of taste, I guess?) Competition seems to be quite a fundamental feature of the universe, and in particular life. Nation States might be passing away, but sports teams are not, and nor are battles between different cultures and (sets of) ideas.

Posted by Hank Pellissier  on  09/01  at  11:00 PM

@ Peter - you’re right. I am actually not trying to be divisive. But it seems obvious to me that cultures are already in competition, sometimes that competition is “healthy” and sometimes quite “unhealthy”, like war. Children in school compete for grades, products compete in the marketplace, people compete for employment positions. Perhaps this will end, but not in the immediate future, and I am (like you) not sure that obliteration of all competition is desirable…

Cultures also change constantly. People adopt other cultural ideas because they seem useful. Confucian ideas, and all religious ideas, have spread thousands of miles from where they were conceived. Our education system is, I believe, modeled on a German idea. Our legal system is, I believe, modeled on British ideas that were probably arrived at from codes in the Jewish Talmud. 

Culture is going to change constantly; maybe Confucius will return as an influence, maybe he won’t. I think he will, along with East Asia rising in influence.  Seems like a wacky idea, but I don’t think Americans knew much about Buddha until Gary Snyder and other beatniks made him fashionable about 55 years ago.  Taoism… popularized by Alan Watts?  you tell me, iPan.  Confucius has been left out of the exported Asian religion culture - it’s almost weird that we don’t know more about him already…

Posted by Burt  on  09/02  at  12:37 AM

@Peter [09/01 at 09:17 PM]

Competition is a function of out of balance ego & fear. Fear that one won’t live up to one’s image of self and assuaging or reinforcing that fear by direct (one on one or group challenges) or vicarious (via sports, jingoism etc.) competitive manifestations. Ego to reinforce the aforementioned self image which generally contains an underlying connotation that one suspects that one is a poseur who needs to believe he’s a winner in order to feel like a complete person. A truly balanced ego needs no competition except to continually improve one’s efforts.

Competition is not the natural order of life (despite Tennyson’s “red in tooth & claw” that seems to be the prevailing opinion). Life is based on and succeeds by the principle of COOPERATION. Living cells cooperate to form organs - altruistically cooperating in their on deaths for the good of the system. Organs operate in concert to support a smoothly operating living system. Social insects and other animals exist in similar cooperative systems. Predators and prey exist in a cooperative balance as long as humans don’t skew the scales. It is humans by and large that choose not to cooperate out of fear of each other and the fear that if they do cooperate, they will be at a disadvantage.

Post/transhumanism can only succeed if we choose to abandon the canard of competition and choose to embrace cooperation as the ethical standard of behavior.

Peace to ALL,


Posted by post-post  on  09/02  at  01:07 PM

Confucius is a good topic—as we are too Euro-centric (if someone already wrote that then pardon for the redundancy), which makes sense for us, however Chinese know more about our progenitors than we know about theirs’. Chinese know more about Jesus than we know about Confucius; they know more about Nixon than we know about Deng Hsiao Ping.

Posted by Hank Pellissier  on  09/02  at  03:03 PM

@ good point, post-post - when I was in China, people approached me and followed me for blocks, chatting, just to practice their English. This was back in 1995. They also sat next to me on the bus, staring at my hairy arms (rare in their land) and reading my guidebook. They were gregariously friendly.  It was my favorite nation ever to visit, due to the residents’ curiosity about me.

Another experience - I was invited to an all-women’s college dorm room.  Of course I had to go. I got there, and it was just a medium-sized room, like a bare living room, with high ceilings. There were 15 girls living in that room. They slept in triple bunk beds. Each girl had a small cubby-hole indented by the side of her bed - that’s where they kept all their books and clothes, everything they owned.  The girls sat in their beds and laughed charmingly at anything I said.

They were happy. Very happy.  If you made 15 USA college kids share a small room they’d sue you and hurt each other. I don’t think even dog kennels in the USA can legally pack ‘em that close. But the Chinese co-eds were happy.  I asked one of them later, why are you all so happy?  And she said, we are so happy because we get to go to college and learn.  We are so fortunate.

Final story. On a train I met three other college girls. I asked them what they were studying. “Civil engineering”, they replied.  “We are going to build bridges and tunnels.” I was impressed. I told them I had never met any female civil engineers in the USA.  “Why not?” they replied. “I don’t know,” I answered, rather embarrassed.

Posted by CygnusX1  on  09/02  at  04:24 PM

How many of those girls went on to become civil engineers? Education and learning is but one thing, opportunities to use and practice that knowledge is yet another?

Less can be more, your point is well taken, but I don’t see a future for mankind in overcrowded dorm rooms? Would you really wish that on anyone.. With all the future scenarios we have possible?


Posted by Hank Pellissier  on  09/02  at  05:10 PM

here’s a current NYTimes article on CHina:

CHina Benefits as U.S. Solar Industry Withers

Posted by Peter Wicks  on  09/02  at  08:46 PM

“they know more about Nixon than we know about Deng Hsiao Ping.”

What’s more, they’re actually proud when they can say that Nixon once visited their tourist attractions! I found that quite funny…

Posted by hank Pellissier  on  09/02  at  09:26 PM

@ Cygnus - uh - the points I was trying to make is that the Chinese I met really were thrilled to learn knowledge, unlike, in my experience many USA kids. Thrilled to learn even in cramped conditions.  Plus the female students didn’t have any gender-based reluctance about learning civil engineering.  Were they more feminist, more sexually liberated?

Posted by CygnusX1  on  09/03  at  08:49 AM

Hank.. Hank..

Once again you totally misconstrue and fail to understand my comments, and yet project your own misunderstanding as my misunderstanding of your comments? I know you are busy, but if you want responses to your articles and comments, then you must take time to read and attempt to understand what folks are trying to say?

Quote – “Final story. On a train I met three other college girls. I asked them what they were studying. “Civil engineering”, they replied. “We are going to build bridges and tunnels.” I was impressed. I told them I had never met any female civil engineers in the USA. “Why not?” they replied. “I don’t know,” I answered, rather embarrassed. “

So let me try once more..

1. How many of those girls went on to become civil engineers?
2. How many of them had their hopes and dreams dashed by lack of opportunities?
3. Education and learning is one thing, providing jobs and employment is another?
4. What is more cruel than providing false hopes and dreams to girls, (and boys), under pretence and education, only to dash them later in a failed competitive system that provides little opportunities? (And I’m not directing my criticisms against Confucianism or China alone)

And to add also, why do you find it strange that women should become civil engineers? And then project this surprise and make the generalisation as the custom in the USA, (or for any other country?) Are there really no female civil engineers in education, training and employment in the USA today? If not why not?

Quote – “@ Cygnus - uh - the points I was trying to make is that the Chinese I met really were thrilled to learn knowledge, unlike, in my experience many USA kids. Thrilled to learn even in cramped conditions. Plus the female students didn’t have any gender-based reluctance about learning civil engineering. Were they more feminist, more sexually liberated?”

Yes I understand the point you were trying to make, there is no misunderstanding here, and it is good to see smiles and happiness on faces, and not just in China? Do you really think there is much difference between the needs of kids in China or for the USA, or difference with the needs of kids, (humans), in any other nation?

Happiness does not necessarily correlate with piety nor frugality, although “less can be more”? I understand you are trying to express your feelings towards Confucian ethics and values, and I appreciate this, and even agree somewhat as to your opinion, yet can you not see that it is you who are throwing the USA baby out, keeping the bath water, and supplanting a Confucian baby in the attempt to resolve today’s complex sociocultural, (and socio-economic), problems?

And I say specifically state USA vs Confucianism in the metaphor accordingly by your general attitude towards all things and problems USA?

Are the kids entirely to blame for their attitudes? Despite the gains that we may derive from Confucianism, do we need to do more? Can we resolve the sociocultural problems created by Capitalism and our western socio-economic system with Confucianism alone?

Providing education, personal goals, encouragement, self-respect, (leading to respect for others), and “opportunities” for humans may be more key and fundamental than even Confucian filial piety? (and BTW, true application of Confucian ethics and conformity does mean that filial piety be applied towards your most wise and honourable Capitalist leaders and government, you can’t have it both ways can you? And that is exactly as they would have it also!)

An observation – You often make points against sexism, yet your points are often subconsciously sexist? And likewise, you make points against racism and ethnicity, yet your points may often be construed as racist? Can you not see that these projections and assumptions, (especially of others), are based from within? We are all inclined to fall into these traps, and it is merely a case of recognising and reflecting when we do it?

Example – ” Plus the female students didn’t have any gender-based reluctance about learning civil engineering. Were they more feminist, more sexually liberated?”

Why should they have reluctance?
Why do you ask, and from what subconscious basis does this question arise?
Why would you immediately associate feminism or sexual liberalism with intellect?
Why do you find all of this surprising, and why would you expect others to find surprise?

Posted by Hank Pellissier  on  09/03  at  11:38 AM

@ Cygnus - oh gee gosh I’m finding out that I’m a subconscious racist sexist and I haven’t even had breakfast yet! yikes! What will I learn about myself by noon?!  After a few cups of coffee, readers will surely come up with irrefutable explanations about why I’m a monster!

Regarding the Chinese girls, they were all in civil engineering colleges and I am assuming that they all became employed civil engineers.  In the USA, 10% of women are civil engineers.  I am sure that percentage is higher in China, and the percentage of engineers is considerably higher.

I enjoy observing statistics that vary between cultures. I think it is valuable to analyze the possible reasons for the differences. Some people, like iPan, probably Valkyrie Ice, and perhaps you, think all culture is now absolutely the same because we’re all on the internet. I disagree. It might seem that way when you’re on Facebook chatting with friends from 50 different nations, but if you inspect a wide range of schools in a large city, you’ll find numerous different social societies. Culture varies immensely still, and families operate with widely-different goals.

Posted by post-post  on  09/03  at  02:41 PM

“families operate with widely-different goals.”

But everybody wants power- that’s the common denominator. If a guy is don Corleone, he can tell other families what to do but they can’t tell his family what to do.


Posted by Hank Pellissier  on  09/03  at  11:55 PM

One way to find out who understands and uses information that I write in an essay is to google it later and see what websites copied it, in its entirety, for readers to learn from on their own site.

The top site that has “borrowed” it is the one below.  I do think that parents, and teachers, clearly recognize that the “Confucian Cultures” are excelling in academics and in certain familial goals.


This entry was posted in Best of Parenting News, Child Brain Development, Child Discipline, Early Academic Learning, Early Teaching & Preschool, Parenting & Education, School & Teaching. Bookmark the permalink.

Posted by iPan  on  09/04  at  10:40 AM

Monster Hank? No. Just hopelessly anachronistic.

The article is shallow because you take a handful of statistics and then make strong assertions without showing causality in a non-scientific manner.

Is Confucianism itself responsible for Asians current performance? If so, there should be an historical precedent, as Confucianism has been around a long time. This boost in performance is relatively a modern phenomena, isn’t it? If so, then why are the hidden fruits of Confucianism only manifesting themselves now?

One could make the argument that it isn’t Confucianism at all, but Western influence, that is driving these gains. The very metrics you use were derived in the West. Capitalism has been making inroads into Eastern economics.

So, what’s at the root of this causation? I suspect it is far more complex than the shallow picture this article portrays.

Posted by iPan  on  09/04  at  12:41 PM

You know what else would be interesting, is if you could recount how you’ve personally adopted the principles of Confucianism to transform your life.

What has your experience been like?

Posted by Hank Pellissier  on  09/04  at  01:45 PM

@ iPan - I believe it is quite inaccurate to portray East Asian civilization as a “modern phenomena.” Marco Polo would disagree with you, for starters.

You are welcome to answer your own questions, above, and then share with me what you find.  I have been surprised by the resistance to my article’s assertions. I have not said anything that is not widely well-known by the general public. Plus, this thread has been riddled with people questioning my conclusions, but no one has presented any information that contradicts what I’ve said.

I am also weary of this “anachronistic” and “shallow” attack that you have leveled.  Like I stated before, what I have written about is extremely well-known in all educational circles. (I am a regular contributor to the website  My whole article is a back-story explanation of where the author is coming from in the best-selling book, “Tiger Mom” in which the Chinese-American author rather rudely explains why her children get better grades, and succeed in ways that surpass Euro-American children.

If you want to refute mainstream information, you will need to present a significant rebuttal with an alternate hypothesis about why East Asians and Asian-Americans are succeeding so well.  There seems to be some fringe quasi-transhumanist thinking here that I do not find very intelligent. 

It seems like this “fringe transhumanist” element is opposed to any examination and comparison of separate cultures?  If that is so, then they would be opposed to the PISA test scores that are internationally scrutinized and utilized by every nation?

I have written articles about the high PISA tests of Finland and South Korea, for example. I have subsequently been contacted by an official in Brazil who wants to raise up the educational level of his nation to Finland and South Korean levels.  Do you - and Cygnus - advise me to tell him that his admiration of other nation’s success is just “racist” and “anachronistic” and “shallow” ?

If you want to just criticize mainstream opinion using condescending insults, without offering an intelligent, data-rich rebuttal, you can, and should be, dismissed as just a pretentious complainer. 

I have seen a rather sneering, we-are-way-smarter-than-everyone-else attitude in many of these comments, that is really rather ridiculous. If you want to convince anyone that you actually have a unique insight to offer, a deeper, more profound and modern analysis than has been previously offered, you will need to do much more than snipe, name-call, and strut.

Posted by Hank Pellissier  on  09/04  at  01:53 PM

iPan - I have not adopted Confucianism to transform my life.  I occasionally repeat maxims that I find wise to members of my family, I have skimmed over the Analects, I have reread info in my graduate school classbook, I’ve contacted experts on Confucianism and I had one author read my article. I am an admirer of Confucius - there is nothing in his bio that is actually NOT admirable - and I’m an appreciator of East Asian culture.

For starters, those who dislike my article can do a little reading on Confucius, perhaps even via the links I have provided.  I think they will find an admirable man there.

Posted by sheekus  on  09/04  at  03:09 PM

It would be wise to look up historical comments that Westerners thought Confucianism was the source of Chinese backwardness. And the Chinese characters, as opposed to the Latin alphabet, were thought to be a hindrance to development.
Winners actively re-write history. East Asian economies have gotten a lot richer over the post-War years, so we now have a completely different attitude about cultural aspects that we thought were primitive before.
A lot of history is accidental. Zheng He’s ships were dismantled by the whim of a succeeding emperor, and Europe surged past China as China foolished deemed itself to be the “Center of civilization surrounded by barbarism.” If Zheng He ‘s successors continued his marine voyages, we would long have had Westerner philosophers(e.g. Leibniz, Voltaire, Needham) espousing the “superiority” of the complex Chinese ideograms.
Let’s just face it, much of history is accidental and based on geographical determinism.(Jared Diamond) Only in retrospect do we attach and attribute success or failures to genes, and cultural quirks. 

the real question you want to ask is : why was confucianism regarded as a source of backwardness, and now it’s regarded as a source of success?

Posted by sheekus  on  09/04  at  03:17 PM

Just as a ps to my previous point. Christianity was for a while thought to be the reason why the West is so much more advanced and developed than every other cultures.
Now I dread the thought of that! as we have fundamentalists in Kansas wanting to outlaw teaching of evolution, and a Norwegian killing 70+ children for fearing the purity of the European continent.
Now doubt the scientific enlightenment and renaissance, despite, rather than due to Christianity, was the source Western ascendancy over last 500 years.
But some East Asians, alas, think otherwise. (just look at the percentage of South Koreans who are Christian, or the rapid popularity of Christianity in China) to get some shivers. The East should learn from the best of West, not the backwardness of West. and vice versa.

Posted by Mark  on  09/04  at  03:54 PM

Hank is in good company.

Another distinguished gentleman recognized the superior cultural nature of Chinese:

Sir Francis Galton reasoned that, since many human societies sought to protect the underprivileged and weak, those societies were at odds with the natural selection responsible for extinction of the weakest; and only by changing these social policies could society be saved from a “reversion towards mediocrity,” a phrase he first coined in statistics and which later changed to the now common “regression towards the mean”.

Sir Francis Galton FRS (16 February 1822 – 17 January 1911), half-cousin of Charles Darwin, was an English Victorian polymath, anthropologist, eugenicist, tropical explorer, geographer, inventor, meteorologist, proto-geneticist, psychometrician, and statistician. He was knighted in 1909.

Posted by Hank Pellissier  on  09/04  at  04:42 PM

@ sheekus - thanks for your post, especially bringing up the historical info about Zhen He and his ships.  Yes, but for a quirk of history, the CHinese might have circumnavigated the glob before Magellan with the result being East Asian colonies instead of European.

@ Mark. I am sooo tired of being called a racist on this thread. I think you’ve done that on other threads as well.

Please note that most of the IEET regular writers do not respond to any comments on their articles.  They decide, I am assuming, that they have better things to do with their time than debate hostile strangers.  I am an exception, so is Nikki Olsen, so are a few others, like Mike Treder. We devote considerable time to responding to readers.

It would be nice for me to read polite, well-thought out arguments instead of intentionally painful smears like yours.

I used to write extensively for hplusmagazine - I’ve written 23 articles for them.  I rarely write for them anymore because I found the level of discourse there was often quite demented, nasty, and occasionally under-educated.  I happily started writing for IEET because the readership here seemed much more civilized.  Your comments though, are not in that category. 

I request that you upgrade the civility of your comments. It is really for your own good.

If you can present yourself as an intelligent respectful communicator that seeks to acquire and impart knowledge, you will make a useful contribution.


Posted by iPan  on  09/04  at  05:23 PM


I don’t dispute the raw data, I dispute it’s interpretation, and it’s usefulness.

Do you think you’re going to change large swaths of culture over night?

If you really want an alternative hypothesis for the performance of some cultures today, I think that in some cases we might have an underdog effect. The underdog tries harder, while the top dog gets lazy. And thus evolution happens.

East Asians weren’t always ahead (despite having Confucianism for a long time). They are now pulling ahead because they have been working hard to pull ahead of their competitors. Those who used to be in the lead are resting on their laurels.

I think it’s likely to be that simple. The underdog always figures out how to pull ahead, and then there’s a new top dog and a new underdog. Then some time goes by, and the new underdog repeats the process.

So, until the West is once again the underdog, their’s probably going to be little motivation to adapt.

The other point is the usefulness and validity of old school (!) standardized testing, particularly IQ, which you seem to favor.

I do a lot of reading on the scientific study of education and general intelligence itself, hence why I favor Andrea’s articles on intelligence, as it actually pry’s apart the basis and foundation for how the human mind learns, and is applicable to any culture anywhere.

Also, Confucius was an Authoritarian, which automatically disqualifies him.

Posted by Mark  on  09/04  at  05:45 PM


You think that being in the company of someone who was knighted by the British Monarchy and who made significant contributions to the development of statistical analysis to be offensive?

How so?

Don’t you think he had scientific reasons to come to his conclusions in his letter?

Posted by iPan  on  09/04  at  05:47 PM

If you really want to improve education in the West, then I have a suggestion.

We’ve known for a long time now that the Montessori model is superior to anything we typically find in American public education.

So why don’t we require our schools and educators to use this model?

Posted by iPan  on  09/04  at  05:50 PM


No, I don’t believe you are a ‘racist’. However, you are an “exceptionalist”, and have described yourself so in the past (these are your words, not mine). Exceptionalism does not have to be distinctly racist.

Some of us find exceptionalism itself, whether it’s racist or not, to be a flawed kind of philosophy and world view.

Posted by post-post  on  09/04  at  08:05 PM

“as we have fundamentalists in Kansas wanting to outlaw teaching of evolution”

Good point, I’ve lived in the Midwest (will get to Confucianism at the end of this comment) for almost three decades; the salient feature of the Midwestern mind is its practicality, as James Reston wrote: “Americans are a funny people, they change the world with their hands but they are very conservative. They are very old fashioned but they admire those who live modern.”
That goes double for the Midwest!
The practicality of the Midwestern mind manifests itself in agriculture obviously, and much else. The negative is insularity which becomes violently indignant when an international threat emerges: they were surprised on 9-11 even though anyone ought to know that irreconcilable hostility exists and invariably leads to war, or at least such has been the case up until now. Not to pick on the Midwest, insularity exists everywhere as defense mechanism. I don’t like to gainsay Midwesterners so don’t tell them (they wouldn’t listen) of how the Western culture they don’t merely admire but actually worship originated more in Greece and Rome than in the West Asia of Jesus Christ. In other words Christianity is more or less an Asian importation. Which makes sense: Midwesternism for instance is a syncretism of Western materialism and (for brevity’s sake) Jesus Christ/Paulist Eastern mysticism.
It is good Hank wrote this piece, we at IEET are with few exceptions Westerners more aware of Jesus, Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Augustine, Martin Luther, Marx, Nietzsche, than we are aware of Confucius and other Asians. As long as we do not project modernist/postmodernist views on Confucius; he was a family-values kind of guy. More recently, it’s easy for Americans to think Lincoln was a civil rights activist when—though he did rapidly evolve—he was more pragmatist than idealist. No one can predict how quickly Lincoln would have evolved if he hadn’t been assassinated;
his collateral vision was seeing the main result of the Mexican War was to open up hundreds of thousands of acres of more territory for pro-slavery and anti-slavery/non-slavery settlers to fight low-level war in perpetua. Cutting through the hagiography, one can say Lincoln’s type take bad situations and attempt to make the best of them.
One might write the same of Confucius as well. And Jesus…

Posted by post-post  on  09/04  at  08:53 PM

“No one can predict how quickly Lincoln would have evolved if he hadn’t been assassinated”

(that is, retroactively predict smile
Anyhow, history books used in K-6 aren’t nuanced enough—at least for the quicker students. Lincoln for example was, as Washington, ludicrously placed on an historical pedestal. A strong case can be made that Northern wage-slavery was often worse than outright slavery. Which was worse, slaving in a 19th century factory most of the day with no Workman’s Comp, or as a Southern slave? matter of opinion.
However decisions had to be made, decisions which could not be put off for long; was guerrilla war over slavery to be fought for generations in the western territories?: a very bad deal for America—but good for the European nations which would have taken advantage of the chaos.

BTW, Hank’s article brings to mind the distinct possibility many Chinese might be persuaded of transhumanism’s benefits to China and the surrounding Asian nations. As you know, there are many decisions which have to be made; decisions which cannot be put off for long…

Posted by Peter Wicks  on  09/04  at  10:54 PM

“Christianity was for a while thought to be the reason why the West is so much more advanced and developed than every other cultures.
Now I dread the thought of that! as we have fundamentalists in Kansas wanting to outlaw teaching of evolution, and a Norwegian killing 70+ children for fearing the purity of the European continent.”

I really don’t know how close the Chinese came to circumnavigating the globe before Magellan. Mike and sheekus have stressed the role of accident in history, and this is an issue we should always keep in mind when drawing conclusions from history. Sorting out the contingent from the truly causal needs to be done with great caution.

But here’s my theory about the role of Christianity. I take my lead from Samuel Huntingdon’s Clash of Civilisations. There was plenty I disagreed with in that book (in particular I seem to remember it contained factual errors concerning Greece), but it’s general message was much less nihilistic than most people who commented on it seemed to think, and one of the lines I remember went something like this: “Western civilisation is/was superior to other civilisations only its capacity to organise violence”.

That’s it, isn’t it? My theory, for what it’s worth, is that the Western monotheistic tradition drove a quest for the truth (our immortal souls were at stake, after all) that ultimately led us to unlock secrets of the universe that drove technological development and thus enabled us to conquer the world. That doesn’t mean it made us better people. On the contrary, it made us rather neurotic. Nietzche was right: when God died, he left a big stench behind. Fundamentalists banning the teaching of evolution, denying well-established climate science, flying planes into buildings or spraying children with bullets are all examples of that stench.

Meanwhile the Chinese had developed an advanced, relatively peaceful (if still somewhat oppressive) culture. My guess is that the truth lies somewhere in between Hank’s thesis and iPan’s alternative thesis that it is Western influence that is driving gains in some pockets of East Asian culture. I think the combination of Confucianism, Taoism, Buddhism and other aspects of East Asian culture has given that culture (to the extent that it still exists, see my comments above on that subject) a resilience that has allowed it to absorb Western culture without being virtually annihilated by it (as other cultures have been), and come out stronger. East Asian communities in places like Hong Kong, Singapore and Western cities seem to be doing exceptionally well. And then there’s that bundle of contradictions and question marks called mainland China…

Posted by post-post  on  09/04  at  11:00 PM

This will be last comment until Tuesday, in case anyone wants to respond (and so the kiosk doesn’t display too many of my comments at one time).

It is also good that Hank has visited China, one wants to experience firsthand a ‘distant subject’. Have never been to Asia, however spent a month camping out in Hawaii to see what a Polynesian lifestyle might be like. The Asian mind became apparent that month; though Hawaii is a Polynesian island it contains a plurality of Asians.
Asians struck me as being almost a colonial organism: since the ocean was very nearby the image of a Portuguese Man of War came to mind although the Asians in Hawaii are not martial. It was similar to the culture shock felt in Mexico, yet ironically not as intense because even though Mexico is just to the south of the USA, the Westernization imposed on Asia subsequent to WWII was evident in Hawaii—it had been several decades. Besides, even though Hawaii is largely Asian it is a US state.
Funny how Mexico was such a shocker but Hawaii wasn’t.
There was a guy camping on the beach, which is forbidden, in Hawaii; as soon as it was realized he was there a group converged to ask him to leave, it WAS similar to a colonial organism. In the West the police would likely be called.

Posted by iPan  on  09/04  at  11:36 PM

My guess is that the truth lies somewhere in between Hank’s thesis and iPan’s alternative thesis that it is Western influence that is driving gains in some pockets of East Asian culture.

Well, not quite. I only offer alternatives to illustrate that their are alternatives.

My more general point is that like most places, I am positive that Asia is a complex of influences.

Hank seems to like simplistic, conveniently packaged, sell-able ideas, and it’s only this that I argue against.

It’s the overly simplified soundbyte, “Confucianism makes you smart” - and the fact that correlation is not causation. Confucianism is concomitant with high IQ scores, but there’s no explanation of how Confucianism makes people smarter. There are too many variables. Also, Confucianism isn’t the sole influence. As another hypothetical illustrative argument, it’s possible to argue that these people became really smart in spite of their culture. Now, that’s not my argument, I point it out simply because as I’ve been stating, no causation has been shown. Merely concomitance, or correlation.

For contrast, let me offer an even more simplistic example that illustrates the same concept: A man from the ghetto works hard, studies, and becomes wildly successful. Using the same basic premise that Hank does, we could then conclude that the ghetto culture he came from is responsible for his success. Most people would scoff at this. All I’ve really asked for is some kind of study that actually shows why Confucianism makes people smarter, not just a regurgitation of statistics, which are meaningless to anyone other than a statistician. I suspect that this would require something like a 10 year study by someone who was willing to live in one of these countries.

Also, it occurred to me that there must be Confucian influenced countries that don’t do so well. What about Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam, N. Korea, Burma? I don’t know to what extent anyone would officially label any of these countries as “Confucian”, but I assume at least one of them is.
If not all “Confucian” countries in fact benefit in increased performance, but only some, then there must be some other factor at play, right? Maybe it’s Confucianism plus other factors, and Confucianism only increases intelligence under the right circumstances/environment.

Things I’ve found inspiring about Asian culture:

Tai Chi

And today I ran across this amazing piece of art:

My point being, I find things I like in almost any culture, but painting with such a broad brush seems senseless to me.

Posted by Hank Pellissier  on  09/05  at  02:02 AM

@ iPan - from wikipedia’s definition of “Confucianism” - below

Cultures and countries strongly influenced by Confucianism include mainland China, Taiwan, Korea, Japan and Vietnam, as well as various territories settled predominantly by Chinese people, such as Singapore. It might be that as many as 1.5 billion people follow Confucian ideals.[2]


I didn’t include Vietnam.  Interestingly enough, I read just today that it is projected to have the fasted-growing per capita income for the next 15 years.  Vietnamese-American students also perform highly. It can easily be argued that their present level of poverty is largely due to the effort involved in defeating the USA.

I also didn’t mention North Korea.  I would argue that it is not very Confucian; that philosophy has been (probably temporarily) replaced by state communism.

Cambodia, Laos, and Burma, that you mention - are not defined by either the wiki reference, me, or anyone else as “Confucianist.” Burma is over-whelmingly Buddhist.

Taoism..? I will leave that up to you. You can write the essay saying that Taoism has been a major contributing influence in East Asian scholastics, family and societal stability, economies, etc. You are welcome to write it with all the facts that you can find to support the notion.  Enjoy the research because it will be hard to locate anything.

Posted by Hank Pellissier  on  09/05  at  02:04 AM

@ Peter Wicks - when I mentioned the Chinese circumnavigation I was referring to this book:

1421: The Year China Discovered the World
Gavin Menzies
Published by Bantam Press, London

In his first book, 1421, Gavin Menzies argues that a huge Chinese fleet circumnavigated and charted the world years before the first great European voyages of discovery. The evidence for this comes in many different forms: from shipwrecks and ancient maps, to local peoples accounts and their DNA.
Explore Gavin’s website to find out more on this fascinating subject.

Posted by Peter Wicks  on  09/05  at  02:32 AM

Hi iPan, I realised you proposed the alternative thesis to demonstrate that there are alternatives, not because you necessarily believe it, but I nevertheless found it a convenient counter-thesis to contrast with Hank’s. The point being that “simplistic, conveniently packaged, sell-able ideas” can, if taken with enough salt, help us to derive insights that we might nevertheless miss.

Take for example ideas like “nothing is impossible” or “if you can dream it you can do it”. These ideas are obviously wrong, but they also have the potential to inspire, and in my case I have found them to be a helpful counterweight against my natural realism, which is not the best frame of mind to be in in order to be happy and successful. (Better to strike some kind of balance between realism and optimism, with brief, sporadic doses of pessimism to help us to identify the less obvious threats.)

“Confucianism makes you smart” has played a similar role: it provides a helpful counterweight to the ultra-realistic “there are good aspects in any culture” and “cultures are merging and disappearing anyway”. It helps to remind us that classical bodies of thought still have an impact on today’s world, and that it is worth thinking about that impact.

By the way one of my more recent influences has been Don’t Be Such a Scientist by Randy Olsen. Olsen is a marine biologist turned film-maker and the book is about what he learned at film school about why scientists are (generally) such poor communicators. Basically he says that the qualities that make people good scientists - the tendency to be cerebral, literal, critical and objective/analytical (rather than just telling a good story) - also inhibit our ability to get our messages across. There are times when it’s really important to be accurate (like when you’re performing brain surgery), other times when it’s better to get an imperfect message across and refine it later rather than deliver a perfect message that nobody understands because they’ve fallen asleep.

I guess my question is: are Hank’s contributions so harmful that they anywhere near justify the vitriolic criticism reflected in some of the comments in this thread (see the first, for example)?

Posted by Paul  on  09/05  at  09:59 AM

In my time in the east, I’ve found that it’s not too surprising that Confucian-influenced cultures do well in tests. That’s because they are very test-oriented in their schools to a degree that would appall students in the West. In schools in Taiwan it’s common for monthly, weekly and even daily tests to be inflicted on students. Furthermore many of them have to stay in cram schools till all hours, including weekends and ‘vacations’. The tests do not encourage critical or creative thinking but simply ensure that children grow up thinking regurgitation of facts is learning.

The result is people who often are conformist and unable to think for themselves (even quite intelligent people). I have students, many of whom are intelligent capable people (in spite of, not because of their educational system) who know English grammar (in a dry textbook kind of way) better than I do but who struggle to compose a coherent sentence in English. This after at least seven years at least in high school. I often have to work hard to teach them to come with their own ideas and opinions.

There is a celebrity in Taiwan, you see his face everywhere. I asked my students about him. They told me that he was a trusted face because he was a lawyer. Depressing, don’t you think?

As for the Confucian harmony of Asian societies, I will finish this long post by pointing out that ‘face’ is all-important there. Underneath the surface of a calm lake there can be a life-or-death conflict going on.

Posted by iPan  on  09/05  at  10:12 AM

Hi iPan, I realised you proposed the alternative thesis to demonstrate that there are alternatives, not because you necessarily believe it, but I nevertheless found it a convenient counter-thesis to contrast with Hank’s. The point being that “simplistic, conveniently packaged, sell-able ideas” can, if taken with enough salt, help us to derive insights that we might nevertheless miss.

Ok Peter, I can actually accept that as long as it’s recognized and understood for what it is.

I don’t have a problem with pep rally’s as long as no one is mistaking them for serious research.

Posted by iPan  on  09/05  at  10:24 AM

Pauls comment reminded me of the theory I actually think is most likely:

The underdogs.

I came across an idea reading an Orson Scott Card book about Japanese culture that struck me as interesting. He described the Japanese as a satellite culture that absorbed, adopted, and perfected aspects of other cultures. That made me think about the influx of American culture in Japan after WWII (everything from baseball, to country western, to pop music).

I think it’s plausible (though I am not committed in any scientific way) to say that these Asian countries that are pulling ahead right now are adopting Western ideals about education (only doing it much better than us).

See, in my view, it all goes back to the Prussian education system.

Maybe Confucianism is highly compatible with this system.

The funny thing will be when they figure out the downside to this system (as we are in America - there is intense research into the very fabric of it’s faults), as this system is being massively overhauled.

In other words, they are following in our footsteps, adopting this Prussian system of education, and probably doing it even better than we did, but the irony is that the system itself is outdated.

For a long time I have had me eye on the evolution of education. It’s a major topic around the world.

So, in a nutshell, I think I could sum up my theory as: The Confucian countries have perfected an education system just as it became obsolete.

Posted by iPan  on  09/05  at  11:33 AM

Serendipity is always on my side (a fringe benefit of being on good terms with Eris Discordia).

This is an article that expresses really well part of what I’ve been saying here (and it seems that successful Asian countries - Confucius or not - have been copying and perfecting this):

Back to (the wrong) school

A hundred and fifty years ago, adults were incensed about child labor. Low-wage kids were taking jobs away from hard-working adults.

Sure, there was some moral outrage at seven-year olds losing fingers and being abused at work, but the economic rationale was paramount. Factory owners insisted that losing child workers would be catastrophic to their industries and fought hard to keep the kids at work—they said they couldn’t afford to hire adults. It wasn’t until 1918 that nationwide compulsory education was in place.

Part of the rationale to sell this major transformation to industrialists was that educated kids would actually become more compliant and productive workers. Our current system of teaching kids to sit in straight rows and obey instructions isn’t a coincidence—it was an investment in our economic future. The plan: trade short-term child labor wages for longer-term productivity by giving kids a head start in doing what they’re told.

Large-scale education was never about teaching kids or creating scholars. It was invented to churn out adults who worked well within the system.

Of course, it worked. Several generations of productive, fully employed workers followed. But now?

Nobel-prize winning economist Michael Spence makes this really clear: there are tradable jobs (making things that could be made somewhere else, like building cars, designing chairs and answering the phone) and non-tradable jobs (like mowing the lawn or cooking burgers). Is there any question that the first kind of job is worth keeping in our economy?

Alas, Spence reports that from 1990 to 2008, the US economy added only 600,000 tradable jobs.

If you do a job where someone tells you exactly what to do, they will find someone cheaper than you to do it. And yet our schools are churning out kids who are stuck looking for jobs where the boss tells them exactly what to do.

Do you see the disconnect here? Every year, we churn out millions of of workers who are trained to do 1925 labor.

The bargain (take kids out of work so we can teach them to become better factory workers) has set us on a race to the bottom. Some argue we ought to become the cheaper, easier country for sourcing cheap, compliant workers who do what they’re told. We will lose that race whether we win it or not. The bottom is not a good place to be, even if you’re capable of getting there.

As we get ready for the 93rd year of universal public education, here’s the question every parent and taxpayer needs to wrestle with: Are we going to applaud, push or even permit our schools (including most of the private ones) to continue the safe but ultimately doomed strategy of churning out predictable, testable and mediocre factory-workers?

As long as we embrace (or even accept) standardized testing, fear of science, little attempt at teaching leadership and most of all, the bureaucratic imperative to turn education into a factory itself, we’re in big trouble.

The post-industrial revolution is here. Do you care enough to teach your kids to take advantage of it?

And what is the point I’ve been making? The entire paradigm is obsolete.

At a bare minimum, our public schools should be using the Montessori model. And that’s just to start.

We need to examine the very structure of the institutions we set out to prop up with this way of thinking.

Posted by Hank Pellissier  on  09/05  at  11:40 AM

@ iPan - why would East Asian nations adopt Western educational ideas when their students are out-performing ours?

Answer: they won’t. Check out my article’s list of the top PISA-scoring nations.  Mostly Confucianist” nations.

Finland is an exception - its students score highly.  And indeed, there is some East Asian interest, South Korea, for example, sends representatives there to inspect the Finnish system.

here’s the link to an article on mine on South Korea -

Posted by iPan  on  09/05  at  12:35 PM

@ iPan - why would East Asian nations adopt Western educational ideas when their students are out-performing ours?

Hank, you’re misunderstanding slightly. I am implying that they’ve adopted Western educational models - specifically the Prussian education model - compulsory education, long hours, obedience training, etc. But they’ve perfected it beyond what we have done.

In the Industrial Age paradigm, this makes sense, actually. This model was built for that age.

But it’s obsolete. (re-read Paul’s comment)

From the article you linked, I found this interesting:

Although these grueling schedules help South Korea’s high test scores, the nation is remarkably inefficient at another PISA criterion known as “study effectiveness.” When PISA calculates each nation’s achievement based on the number of hours spent studying, South Koreans rank only 24th out of 30 developed nations. The winner in study effectiveness is Finland, the world’s true PISA champ, placing first in science, second in math, and second in reading. Finnish students only attend school 190 days per year (two weeks more than U.S. children) and receive less than a half-hour of homework per day.

Finland, the clear winner, only has two more weeks of school than the US, and less than a half hour of homework per day.

It’s not the level of discipline and dedication that is wrong with education, Hank.

It’s our approach. The obsessive fixation on standardized testing. Administrators greed. No Child Left Behind.

Education is one of many rackets in America. The problem does not lie with the attitudes and habits of people. It lies in the fact that we are using a system that was designed to build robots out of people (factory workers) and is a giant scam.

There are initiatives to correct this, and they generally don’t involve any more discipline than the current system (and in some ways less). There are studies on how a lack of play time is hurting children’s ability to learn.

Your answer seems to be more authoritarianism in education. Longer school hours (which the example of Finland would seem to refute), stricter discipline.

A good example of the new direction education is taking, aside from the more general trend that everything is going online and virtual, is this:

Design and innovation are at the heart of Quest to Learn (Q2L), a school committed to helping every student to achieve excellence in the skills and literacies necessary for top college and career readiness. We believe that students today can and do learn in different ways, often through interaction with digital media and games. Q2L builds on this belief to create a nurturing and vibrant 6th-12th grade school environment that supports all students in the pursuit of academic excellence, social responsibility, respect for others, and a passion for lifelong learning. Quest opened with a 6th grade class in Fall 2009, and will add a new grade each subsequent year.

Quest supports a dynamic curriculum that uses the underlying design principles of games to create academically challenging, immersive, game-like learning experiences for students. Games and other forms of digital media also model the complexity and promise of “systems.” Understanding and accounting for this complexity is a fundamental literacy of the 21st century.

The school’s learning model is carefully designed to enable all students, with a diverse range of learning styles to contribute to the design and innovation necessary to meet the needs and demands of a global society. At Quest, a curiosity for learning paired with a commitment to social responsibility and respect for others defines the school culture. “Learn how, learn now,” is our motto.

Quest fosters the type of learning that is possible today—learning based on access to online resources and tools from around the globe, learning that supports customized content for every student, learning that is game-like in its ability to inspire and motivate.

At the very least, all schools should be using the Montessori model, as it’s been proven effective in this country already.

The question is why aren’t we using a better model we already know?

Everything comes down to politics and money. And that is it.

Posted by iPan  on  09/05  at  12:53 PM

@ iPan - why would East Asian nations adopt Western educational ideas when their students are out-performing ours?

To clarify further: have you considered maybe the reason they are out performing us now is because they’ve begun to adopt Western models (including economically as well as educational)? Only they’re doing it better than us.

Posted by iPan  on  09/05  at  01:56 PM


In my time in the east, I’ve found that it’s not too surprising that Confucian-influenced cultures do well in tests. That’s because they are very test-oriented in their schools to a degree that would appall students in the West. In schools in Taiwan it’s common for monthly, weekly and even daily tests to be inflicted on students. Furthermore many of them have to stay in cram schools till all hours, including weekends and ‘vacations’. The tests do not encourage critical or creative thinking but simply ensure that children grow up thinking regurgitation of facts is learning.

Andrea Kuszewski

Hypothesis I: Teaching and encouraging kids to learn by rote memorization and imitation shapes their brain and behavior, making them more inclined towards linear thinking, and less prone to original, creative thinking.

Posted by Hank Pellissier  on  09/05  at  02:24 PM

this is only very tangentially related, but here’s a disturbing link:

USA % of mental illness:  26.4%
China % of mental illness: 9.1%

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