Assorted links

by on March 5, 2010 at 1:30 pm in Web/Tech | Permalink

1. A rant against Japan.

2. Why we are not living in Western civilization (video).

3. Tim Harford's tips for writing non-fiction; I agree.

4. Contrarian claims about performance enhancers in baseball; caveat emptor.

5. Bastiat and Say on fiscal stimulus (though I don't think they would favor ARRA as a whole).

TheUnrepentantGunner March 5, 2010 at 2:00 pm

Eric Walker is pretty much an unreliable crank. You can look up his interviews on deadspin amongst other places and decide for yourself.

With that said some of his points are valid

JackTrade March 5, 2010 at 2:15 pm

Re the Japan link, wow…if a guy who works in high tech, relates life to videogames, is persnickity about his food and loves to mention he’s in a band doesn’t like Japan, who possibly could? He sounds like an anime character himself.

Great piece.

Millian March 5, 2010 at 2:37 pm

Is link #1 a satire of easily-perturbed people?

William March 5, 2010 at 2:52 pm

EVERYTHING IN JAPAN HAS MEAT IN IT

I’ll just go ahead and move Japan up a few ranks on my ‘To Visit’ list. Thanks, Tim!

Jim Crozier March 5, 2010 at 4:23 pm

The Stephen Davies lecture is very interesting, thanks.

JackTrade March 5, 2010 at 4:37 pm

William, I thought everything in Japan had fish in it (esp. in light of its recent refusal to stop overfishing bluefin tuna).

You know, just like the bread at the Frying Dutchman!

P March 5, 2010 at 6:59 pm

Having just read Richard Nisbett’s Geography of Thought, I really couldn’t sit through the Davies lecture. If, instead of using arbitrary definitions dreamed up by historians and economists, you use psychometric data, then it is really obvious that whatever narrative spin you want to put on it, we here in the West have a unique way of perceiving the world. It has nothing to do with narratives at all; what Westerners see when they look at an event is often times simply different than what Easterners see, and that fact is what defines us as Western.

Brian March 5, 2010 at 9:08 pm

Japan link was like one of TC’s more annoying posts about his superior taste but 20x the length.

Mark March 5, 2010 at 11:00 pm

The link with regards to Japan was rather interesting to me. As a student of Japanese, I am always curious to learn new information about the country, and occasionally even from sour viewpoints. That said, some of the ranting seemed somewhat bizarre, and I seem to think that two of the comments previous to mine, those from Swimmmy and Brian, were probably rather accurate.

Ricardo March 6, 2010 at 4:27 am

I’ve noticed there is a kind of expat lifecycle among Westerners who live in non-Western countries. The first three to six months are the tourist phase: in this phase, everything is new and interesting and people in this phase find it almost rude to make any complaint about the country. Gradually, cynicism and intolerance set in.

After several years (which typically include a few failed romantic relationships and business ventures, legal troubles, etc), the embittered expat will not hesitate to go off on a verbal rampage about how locals are all a bunch of liars, cheats and phonies, how the government is non-functional and corrupt and how nearly every aspect of the culture is primitive and inferior compared to “home.” These people are genuinely insufferable.

bongo March 6, 2010 at 3:05 pm

Wow, I never would have thought I’d see a Tim Rogers article linked here. I definitely have to echo Swimmy’s take on him; Tim’s writing works on a level of irony that is somehow so over-the-top and yet so imperceptible.

Think of Andy Kaufman, perhaps.

tourist March 7, 2010 at 6:17 am

why are Tyler’s and Alex’s home page links on this page?

Michael G. Heller March 7, 2010 at 9:25 pm

P,

I see what you’re saying but still don’t agree. You are being too deterministic about psycho-culture. Probably a lot of it is just definition of terms.

1.Yes, Japan and Korea are wealthy and display many of the physical, technological, and attitudinal characteristics of modernity. But they are not institutionally modern by today’s standard measures of modernity, which, in the Weberian terms I prefer, is a package of institutional elements (the main thread running through them is constructed impersonality).

The Japan Rant in the other link above is intolerant and over the top, but it gives a useful microlevel flavor of the modernity deficit. In broader support I would cite articles on government-business relations, or bureaucratic politics, or legal process in Japan, which clearly illustrate underdevelopment by standard-logical definitions. If societies could be said to be rational in the way individuals are, I think you could even say that Japan and Korea are not comparatively-speaking rational societies. China will experience the same problem at some stage.

Japan is currently treading water, moving its legs to avoid going down or back. It won’t move forward to *sustainable* wealth until it goes through a process of institutional change. Just as Japan is not currently building successfully on its productive, technological and organizational advantages, so similarly the post-crisis ‘West’ might now lose it’s institutional advantages and might tread water for a decade or two. The reasons are only partly, if at all, cultural.

2. The individualism-collectivism continuum is useful but only part of the story. Actually the ways in which Japan is meaningfully collectivist at the economic and political level (conformist, deferential/authoritarian, ceremonial, tradition-bound, personalistic, inflexibly hierarchical, etc., to mention a few of the standard characterizations) are tautologically a sign of not having acquired institutions and ideologies that encourage and permit more individualism. I think there’s a lot of truth in Ernest Gellner’s claim that individualism is the first point of escape from culture (I discuss this in my book).

Having said all that, however, Japan and other countries really are exceptionally different in cultural terms, which is interesting, valuable, and enjoyable, except when it turns tragic. My main point is only that it is possible to escape culture, and that psycho-cultural explanations of development are vastly and often dangerously overrated.

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