"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
6 The Culture War8 The Culture WarThe Culture WarChapter 7: US-China Relations and Wars2020-10-18Journal
So now, as we imagine how Americans and the Chinese will handle their shared challenge to evolve in the best possible way on this shared planet, I try to imagine where their strong cultural inclinations, most importantly where the irreconcilable differences that they would rather die for than give up, will lead them.
For example, most Americans and most Westerners would fight to the death for a) the ability to have and express one’s opinions, including one’s political opinions, and b) the lack of the right and ability of the organization they are part of to stand in the way of that right. In contrast the Chinese value more a) the respect for authority, which is reflected and demonstrated by the relative parties’ powers, and b) the responsibility to hold the collective organization responsible for the actions of individuals in the collective. A recent example of such a culture clash occurred when in October 2019 the general manager of the Houston Rockets (Daryl Morey) tweeted an image expressing support for Hong Kong’s pro-democracy protest movement. He quickly pulled down his tweet and explained that his views weren’t representative of his team’s views or the NBA’s views. Morey was then attacked by the American side (i.e., the press, politicians, and people) for not standing up for free speech and by the Chinese side, and the Chinese side held the whole league responsible and punished it by dropping all NBA games from China’s state television, pulling NBA merchandise sales from online stores, and demanding that the league fire Morey for expressing his critical political views. This culture clash arose because of how important free speech is to Americans and how Americans believe that the organization that the individual is a part of should not be punished for the actions of the individual. The Chinese, on the other hand, believe that the harmful attack needed to be punished and that the group that the individual is a part of should be held accountable for the actions of the individuals in it. One might imagine much bigger cases in which much bigger conflicts would arise due to such differences in deep-seated beliefs about how people should be with each other. For example, when in a superior position, the Chinese tend to want that to be clear, to have the party in a subordinate position know that it is in a subordinate position and to obey and that, if it doesn’t do these things, it will be punished. That is the cultural inclination/style of Chinese leadership. They can also be wonderful friends who will provide support when needed. For example, when the governor of Connecticut was desperate to get personal protective equipment in the first big wave of COVID-19 illnesses and deaths and couldn’t get it from the US government and other American sources, I turned to my Chinese friends for help and they provided what was needed, which was a lot. As China goes global a number of countries’ leaders (and their populations) have been both grateful and put off by China’s acts of generosity and strict punishments. Some of these cultural differences can be negotiated to the parties’ mutual satisfaction but some of the most important ones will be very difficult to negotiate away.