"Every perception is to some degree an act of creation, and every act of memory is to some degree an act of imagination."
-- Gerald Edelman, Second Nature: Brain Science and Human Knowledge
5 The Culture War7 The Culture WarThe Culture WarChapter 7: US-China Relations and Wars2020-10-18Journal
The American and Chinese economic and political systems are different because of the differences in their histories and the differences in their cultures that resulted from these histories. As far as economics is concerned the two different viewpoints—i.e., 1) the classic left (favoring government ownership of the means of production, the poor, the redistribution of wealth, etc.), which the Chinese call communism, and 2) the classic right (favoring private ownership of the means of production, whoever succeeds in the system, and much more limited redistributions of wealth)—exist in China as in the rest of the world and have had swings from one to the other in all societies especially in China, so it would not be correct to say that the Chinese are culturally left or right. Similar swings in American preferences have existed throughout its much more limited history. I suspect that if the United States had a longer history we would have seen wider swings as we have seen in Europe through its longer history, so we should consider even wider swings possible. For these reasons these “left” versus “right” inclinations appear to be more Big Cycle swings around the evolutionary trends than core values that are evolving. In fact we are seeing these swings now taking place in both countries so it’s not a big stretch to say that policies of the “right” such as capitalism are close to being more favored in China than in the United States and vice versa. In any case, the deep cultural preferences and the clear distinctions are not there. In contrast the cultural inclinations of the Chinese to be top-down/hierarchical versus bottom-up/non-hierarchical are deeply embedded in them and in their political systems and the cultural inclinations of Americans to be bottom-up/non-hierarchical are also deeply embedded in them. As for which approach will work best and will win out in the end, I will leave that for others to debate, hopefully without bias, though I will note that most knowledgeable observers of history have concluded that neither of these systems is always good or bad—that what works best varies according to a) the circumstances and b) how people using these systems are with each other. No system will sustainably work well, in fact all will break down, if a) the individuals in it don’t respect it more than what they individually want and b) the system is not flexible enough to bend with the times without breaking.