David Brooks is Worried

David Brooks is one of the conservative pundits I read regularly. On Friday night as the Olympic opening ceremony was unfolding there was a lot of idle chatter on this blog about the ceremony–using code words like Leni Reifenstal, I suppose to signal a fascist message being conveyed. But Brooks has another view, and I think I agree with him.

We in the West have a narrative that involves the development of individual reason and conscience during the Renaissance and the Enlightenment, and then the subsequent flourishing of capitalism. According to this narrative, societies get more individualistic as they develop.

But what happens if collectivist societies snap out of their economic stagnation? What happens if collectivist societies, especially those in Asia, rise economically and come to rival the West? A new sort of global conversation develops.

The opening ceremony in Beijing was a statement in that conversation. It was part of China’s assertion that development doesn’t come only through Western, liberal means, but also through Eastern and collective ones.

The ceremony drew from China’s long history, but surely the most striking features were the images of thousands of Chinese moving as one — drumming as one, dancing as one, sprinting on precise formations without ever stumbling or colliding. We’ve seen displays of mass conformity before, but this was collectivism of the present — a high-tech vision of the harmonious society performed in the context of China’s miraculous growth.

My sense is that the Chinese were trying to send a message to the world–we are strong, we are many, we cooperate well, we want our children to have a better life than their parents, we play well with people from all over the world. The Chinese see the future of a global trading society, where they can compete not just on cheap labor, but on home grown technology (the 300 foot long LCD!). Like the rest of the BRIC’s they have huge asset pools and not a lot of debt. A large well educated populace, natural resources and fairly low military expenditures/GDP.

Brooks is worried, because the whole basis of the economic philosophy he has worshiped since he first read Milton Friedman is being questioned by the success of these societies.

If Asia’s success reopens the debate between individualism and collectivism (which seemed closed after the cold war), then it’s unlikely that the forces of individualism will sweep the field or even gain an edge.

For one thing, there are relatively few individualistic societies on earth. For another, the essence of a lot of the latest scientific research is that the Western idea of individual choice is an illusion and the Chinese are right to put first emphasis on social contexts…Relationships are the key to happiness. People who live in the densest social networks tend to flourish, while people who live with few social bonds are much more prone to depression and suicide.

Brooks ends by saying this is all good for autocrats, but I don’t think the matter is so black and white. I have been arguing for a while that in a New Federalism paradigm, notions of cooperation and freedom are not in opposition. The new Web 2.0 technologies are allowing us to coordinate at a distance and at very low transaction cost. Can freedom and cooperation live together?

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0 Responses to David Brooks is Worried

  1. jonolan says:

    I think China is more of an example of conformity as opposed to cooperation. In China there is no individual, only the collective. This can be seen by the total lack of value they place on the individual.

  2. silverECHO says:

    I think there is always going to be tension between individual and collective impluses. Allowing room for both to coexist is what I see Web 2.0 providing us the ability to experiment with and find our comfort zone. In the physical world, my wife and I are finding ourselves drawn to more community experiences like eating dinner at a popular local restuarant where we often bump into friendly neighbors, while at that same time, we crave the kind of isolation we get from being in our home alone on a Sunday afternoon. I employ people who enjoy working from home, yet, I was just noticing today how every person driving or walking seems to be either talking on a cell phone or texting. We seem want to be separate yet connected, all at the same time. Maybe that’s what China is trying to do in their own way, with vigor and in an unappologetic fashion. In general, maybe American’s are unnerved by another large, powerful nation like China showing us that they have their own unique voice, culture and way of doing things which seems to be working at a large-scale.

  3. wBate says:

    jonolan – this is a very glib thing to say, “In China there is no individual…” and “…total lack of value they place on the individual.” Do you know what you are speaking about? Can you back these vast generalizations ( which are very common generalization abt China ) with examples? Having lived and worked in Beijing for several years, I am certain that my Chinese friends would not agree that they lacked individuality. I don’t mean this as an attack on you, I just find this to be an all too commonly spouted assumption that seems at best a massive simplification.

  4. Bob van den Eijkhof says:

    To this day we know Russia is the stronger country military wise, they have put their fear into Georgia by showing just that (entering the country with with an unnecessary abundant force, killing a vast amount civilians and then leaving again like nothing had happened)… hoping this fear will generate respect and future obedience to the Mother country. However and I quote… no, not from the Bible but from a known green midget source saying “Fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate, hate leads to suffering” I pray the latter will not come to be, for the the day will surely come when Russia has burned its own bridges across the world and when allies are running short.

    As it is today what has happened will be forgotten in the stream of news from the Olympic Games, another thousand or so people have lost their lives due to Russians atempt to set the status que in balance. but in the end of the day we now that ” Fear is the path to the dark side”!

  5. STS says:

    I’m glad David Brooks is worried about China. I’d like to see our shiny-happy corporate executive class start to pick up a little more of that anxiety. They’ve been snoozing for a generation or more on a powerful dose of Friedmanite Economic Determinism.

    Marx was famously an economic determinist, but his view was that deterministic economic forces would drive history to a egalitarian communistic end-state. Friedman’s flavor of economic determinism (“economic freedom produces political freedom” ) is actually almost the same thing. Both Marx and Friedman agree that economic forces are the only game in town, everything else is just icing (or ‘superstructure’). The difference is just that Friedman’s utopian future end-state is ultra-libertarian capitalism (like the US in maybe 1910 or so?) rather than anything more comfortable for the average citizen. More plausible than the Marxian vision, perhaps, but the casual equation of “freedom = shopping” would be embarrassing even on a T shirt. It’s even more embarrassing as the quasi-official ideology of the United States.

    Now that Brooks is anxious about China, I hope he’ll do more than start looking around for liberals or Democrats to blame. Maybe we should think about how we might manage to keep up with a country with 4 times our population, a much higher savings rate and an intense drive to succeed?

  6. Why am I supposed to care when a neo-conservative apologist only NOW started getting nervous about the power of China?

    I’m a capitalist. I believe small, local businesses and entrepreneurs are fundamentally superior to multinational corporatocracies regardless of whether they are controlling our democratic or China’s communist governments.

    I have no more love for WalMart than for the Chinese factories that feed it.

  7. Joel says:

    Good thing every society isn’t individualistic, there are not enough resources on earth to support it!

    Quickly we may be approaching a time where rising global demand and an overstretched US military-industrial complex are making the “Cost of Empire” (credit to John) prohibitively expensive. We are going to have to learn how to cooperate with other nations.

    The good news is that freedom and cooperation are not mutually exclusive.

    In fact, current US “individualism” is indirectly costing us our freedom. The Bush administration has compromised constitutional rights (e.g. 4th, 5th amendments) to support the GWOT. If US foreign policy would have favored cooperation over coercion we would not have to make the trade-off between security and freedom.

  8. Hugo says:

    It wasn’t just Leni Riefenstahl; it was Riefer meets Disney. Perhaps Philip Bondy of the New York Daily News put it best: It was “Communism on acid.”

  9. Hugo says:

    Mea culpa: Mr. Bondy’s first name is Filip, with an “F”, and a twist of lime.

  10. Fentex says:

    Just to keep the facts straight, as currently known, Russia didn’t kill the majority of people in this conflict, Georgia bombarded Tskhinvali in Ossetia killing about 2,000 people.

    The details of political calculation, manuevering and provocation that preceded conflict may forever remain murky but the bold fact that Georgia chose to shell a city and kill many innocents seems well established.

    As such I think the Russians get to claim a certain legitimacy in stopping that. It was a clear evil deserving of confrontation.

  11. Fentex says:

    I don’t get why the Olympics opening ceremony is seen as some kind of statement about collectivism either.

    In 1972 I was one of thousands of children at the Commonwealth games that ran onto the field at opening ceremonies to form the games symbol.

    This was one of the first times such a thing was attempted (we weren’t well practiced and botched it up a little).

    Nobody at the time thought it was a grand statement about collective behaviour in my country and I don’t see why anyone should attach such meaning to a show of art and talent that just happens to be well choreographed.

  12. Hugo says:


    First, the 1972 Summer Olympics (weren’t they just SWELL?) have nothing in common, save packaging, with the Slayjing Follies now playing out.

    Second, “to keep the facts straight”, the Republic of Georgia was using martial force against renegades and foreign shills WITHIN ITS OWN FUCKING BORDERS. “Murky”, schmerky; the Russians invaded a sovereign, democratic nation; for God’s sake, they didn’t do it to SAVE anyone!

    And since you “don’t see why anyone should attach such meaning to a show of art and talent that just happens to be well choreographed”, I guess my reference to Leni Riefenstahl wasn’t as trite and familiar as Jon says.

  13. Alex Bowles says:

    Brooks’s observation about the Individualist / Collectivist dichotomy may have substance, but it would be a mistake to think that the fundamental nature of Collectivism is changing based on what he saw in the Potemkin Village of the Beijing Games.

    For a perspective on what happened behind the scenes, see here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R-CdWcszb_8.

    If Brooks is concerned about an economic edge, and what sort of cultural changes we should consider if we’re to maintain one, he should stop fretting about who we are in relation to the development of others who aren’t like us, and focus on the two factors that cripple indiscriminately; living without the rule of law and living with corruption.

    On these two fronts, we’re in clear decline. Here’s a Boston Globe article that nicely summarizes the general attitude of the Bush Administration toward the rule of law, and how it applies to them (short version: it’s doesn’t). http://www.boston.com/news/nation/articles/2008/01/30/bush_asserts_authority_to_bypass_defense_act/?page=1.

    On the corruption front, we’re faced with the unbridled power of special interests in Congress, and the freedom of Congressional members to gerrymander their seats into permanent safety, so they can freely disregard most of their constituents in favor of powerful lobbies, and buy off the rest with earmarks. If the connection between increasing corruption and decreasing economic strength is valid, Congress now represents a far greater threat to American prosperity than the ascent of China. The primacy of this connection also suggests that keeping our own house in order is a far more effective policy than antagonizing the Chinese, or even thinking that we have to ‘deal’ with them as though they were a hostile nation, and not one of our largest trading partners. (I know the MIC would like us to think otherwise, but that’s to be expected.)

    Something that Brooks gets amazingly wrong is his assertion that (a) Privacy is a defining characteristic of Individualist societies and that (b) the US and the the UK represent an extreme on the Individualist / Collectivist spectrum. If both these statements were correct, then you’d expect the US and the UK to have some of the strongest pro-individual privacy laws in existence.

    Unfortunately, nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, Privacy International recently placed the US and the UK in the same category as Russia and China when it came to legal protections for individual privacy (i.e. dead last). Details here: http://www.privacyinternational.org/article.shtml?cmd%5B347%5D=x-347-559597

    Of course, this development is recent. It’s also a direct result of (1) the possibly criminal conduct of Bush with regard to warrantless wiretapping and unsupervised monitoring of all domestic traffic by the NSA and (2) the total inability of Congress to hold the Administration to task, or say ‘no’ to the various commercial interests that want to (a) commodify every detail of our personal lives (b) place control over these details beyond any individual’s reach, and (c) minimize any legal liability they may incur in the event that operations associated with (a) and (b) somehow damage any individuals.

    If Brooks is suggesting that we need to shift away from the Individualist end of the spectrum as he defines it, I’d say he’s already getting his wish, if the twin-pronged assault on privacy by the Feds and big business is any indication. But presumably, this isn’t “bad”. It just means we’re becoming more “collective”. Also Collectivism seems to be on the upswing (hey, just look at Beijing!) so um, it’s all good, right?

    Wrong. Dead wrong.

  14. Cir says:

    while what you (and David Brooks) are saying about China’s intentions with the opening spectacle, I wouldn’t personally read too much from it.

    a) large part (estimates ranging from a third to two thirds) of the people in the show came from military, which probably explains a large part of the “thousands of Chinese moving as one”.

    b) it has already come up, that in several parts of the ceremonies China chose to present things in the best PR style (the child singer was replaced with prettier ad-libber, several of the fireworks scenes were actually taped the day before..)

    c) can there really be a real unity and longevity, when the Chinese government deliberately stomps large amounts of people under the boot to maintain the Potemkin villages? (restricting car use during best growth season is driving large amounts of nearby farmers into poorhouse (if there were one :p); possibly tens of thousands were forcifully removed from the areas now used to the Games; to ensure water for the Games several nearby water sources have been dammed, causing droughts on large areas of farmland; large amounts of people have been arrested or made to disappear, ranging from vocal human rights activists to Tibet protestors and as people who’ve simply talked with foreign reporters)

    Sure, there is still a possibility of China developing in the direction you and David Brooks surmise, but right now I’m personally sceptical about it, and believe it isn’t really a feasible conclusion with the current government policies.

  15. Hugo says:

    Cir, the American gig there is indeed a voyage a la Potemkin. You’re so right.

  16. Jon Taplin says:

    We all know these opening ceremonies are propaganda. For God Sakes the Super Bowl half-time show is propaganda. The point is , what message was that expenditure of millions meant to convey to the world. Aggressive or Harmonious?

    If , as I suspect the global contest in the next 20 years is whether the US is economically and culturally stronger vis a vis the BRIC’s, then the jury is still out. If we keep measuring our own strength by the size of our military and the number of wars we can simultaneously fight, then I have no doubt that our economic and cultural place in the world will be weaker.

  17. Ken Ballweg says:

    NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) — Nearly two-thirds of U.S. companies and 68% of foreign corporations do not pay federal income taxes, according to a congressional report released Tuesday.

    The Government Accountability Office (GAO) examined samples of corporate tax returns filed between 1998 and 2005. In that time period, an annual average of 1.3 million U.S. companies and 39,000 foreign companies doing business in the United States paid no income taxes – despite having a combined $2.5 trillion in revenue.

    Why relevant to this thread? Infrastructure. Thanks to giving business a pass (and hasn’t it helped the economy (of the rich) something wonderful?) the tax burden has been shifted to folks who are “taxed out” and willing to cut their own basic services to avoid paying more.

    In the process, we’ve lost much of what allows us to compete directly (but the business don’t care, their “global” now), and we are in a place where a nation with the drive to become an economic power (you think their wealthy give a fuck that peasant got shafted to make a statement, that’s Chinese history in a nutshell boyyo) and given resources of cheap labor and sufficient capital can eat our lunch. The opening show was about technological capacity, ability to marshal resources (including a mass of military drummers, and peasants who can be displaced with a word from the party), and the will to spend that much to pull it all off without having to have it be a massive ad for coke.

    That’s the message. Sustainable? Probably more so than some of you are wishing. Can we match it, or counter it: doubtful. What’s missing is the will to foot the bill without a major crisis to force us to. America is like a restaurant where the owners are embezzling from each other, the front staff is skimming the till, and the kitchen staff are drunk on company wine, and stealing from the pantry. Isn’t that a pretty image compared to the family restaurant with a rigid patriarch with a clear plan, zero tolerance by the majority of the family for deviation from the mission, and all the resources needed to make it go, even if the kitchen staff are in chains.

    America, living off it’s own legends while doing nothing to contribute their renewal.

  18. Rick Turner says:

    Isn’t it odd that some of our best known capitalist institutions…Disney Corp. and IBM, for instance…insist on the same collectivist lock-step mentality that seems to be in evidence here? And then there is the American military (or any military) where individualism is stamped out in boot camp so the individuals can be disposable and easily replaced. America has a very schizoid soul on this subject.

  19. zestypete says:

    Not sure why the “message” being sent by China during this opening ceremony would ever be anything but “we are strong, we are many, we cooperate well, we want our children to have a better life than their parents, we play well with people from all over the world” – isn’t that the message put forward at every Olympic opening ceremony?

    Plus jet packs for all, if you’re American, of course.

  20. Alex Bowles says:


    I like your analogy. That’s a pretty good portrait of corruption in action. From what I understand, there’s far more of that in China than America, though the gap is slowly closing. Bush’s disregard for the rule of law is simply the result of Congressional indifference. Like you say, the owners are too busy embezzeling each other to keep an eye on management.

  21. STS says:


    Excellent observations. We are becoming more like China (top-down control, lack of government accountability, corruption, etc.) every bit as fast as they are liberalizing.

  22. len bullard says:

    The concept that the densest social networks have the most advantage is wrong. That’s not what the research says. It indicates that the nodes with the oldest connections have the most advantages because the connections are stable. Then it is a matter of refreshing the network with new connections.

    Evolution is at the edges. Again, the revolution moves where the radar isn’t looking.


  23. Alex Bowles says:

    Final thought (no, really)

    Brooks does make the point of HEAVILY qualifying his generalizations (usually / tends to / often) etc. He’s smart enough to see that his dichotomy is far too simple to be used as anything more than a point of entry, at least when it comes to global politics.

    One place where it can really serve well is in the emerging area of law used to protect individual’s creative freedom and personal dignity in the Internet age.

    Two particular, and seemingly unrelated areas come into sharper focus when placed on this continuum. The first is Copyright law, which really does provide an extreme outlier on the Individualist end of things (extreme in that its unrestrained application can – and does – destroy the very culture it’s supposed to serve.)

    The other is Privacy law, which, by default, has become exceedingly Collectivist in its application (see the absurd ‘Privacy is Dead’ mantra, which responds to previously unfeasible violations of individual dignity by throwing up its hands and saying ‘oh well, that’s just the price of progress / freedom / security / whatever’).

    What’s interesting is that the opinion-makers on sites like Ars Technica, Boing Boing, Digg, Gawker, and Slashdot (to name just a few) can reach very consistent views about the need for fundamental legal reform in these areas, while advocating diametrically opposed routes for development in each case (more Collectivism with Copyright, more Individualism with Privacy).

    This says that Individualism and Collectivism are, frankly, devoid of any self-governing moral content in and of themselves. Rather, they are simply tools – conceptual frameworks for establishing vital social cohesion. Their perceived moral value is really a function of their general acceptance. And while societies, it seems, tend to default on one side or the other, success appears to depends on the ability for people and groups to shift perspectives relatively freely, and whenever needed.

    But today, the power of earmarks and special interests have crippled the ability of Congress to reflect in law the irreversible shifts that this society has already made. Consequently, the advent of the Internet in a corrupt legal environment has resulted in the opening of (at least) two giant legal vacuums in which innocent individuals are now being freely bullied, abused, exploited and, in extreme cases, traumatized for life, if not killed outright.

    In cases where the aggressors operate in general public view, they inevitably point to the out-of-date, but still prevailing ‘ism’ that governs their field as though it were (a) a true moral principle and (b) implicit justification for their outrageous conduct. Then they pay friendly Congress people to parrot the same tripe, even at the risk of looking like complete idiots (Exhibit A: Ted ‘Series of Tubes’ Stevens)

    Sophisticated people recognize that they’re caught in a cross-fire if they adopt either ‘ism’ as a guiding moral principle. Enshrine Individualism in the name of Privacy and watch Copyright law become even more unmanageable (and, ironically, more intrusive). Declare the supremacy of Collectivism as a moral imperative when trying to reform Copyright law, and watch the other edge of that sword reduce the value of your own work to nothing (and reducing you to your own, individual starvation).

    Therefore, an early challenge for the emerging class of post-partisan, creatively active, politically independent people is to articulate a single, coherent principle that can simultaneously recover Copyright law from the extremes of Individualism, and develop Privacy law so that it shelters individuals from the inevitable humiliations of rampant Collectivism. My own suggestion is to start with the ideas of Robert Fuller (http://www.breakingranks.net/weblog/rankism).

    This principle – whatever it is – will also need to be simple enough, clear enough, and accepted broadly enough to provide the overwhelming political force that will be required to actually Change Congress in the manner envisaged by Larry Lessig (http://change-congress.org).

    Okay, enough with my contributions to the collective’s dialog. I have individual rent to pay.

  24. ec brown says:

    There’s a documentary encircling the N. Korean Mass Games — of 2003, I believe: — “A State of Mind.”

    As presented, the collective-over-the-individual sentiment isn’t just hypothesizing from media-criticism enthusiasts. It is a sentiment very much worn on the sleeve.

    Also, as presented, it grooves with the public mentality, given its defensive calibration against the threats of the west. And the need for the good of the collective to justify the very tangible deprivations of the individual.

    This doc was made with the permission and cooperation of N.K. officials, so the filmmakers either didn’t have access to dissenting views, or didn’t dare to include them.

    Here’s the site (with trailers):
    or the YouTube trailer:

  25. Hugo says:

    I believe that the Chinese junta actually spent more than a billion in USD on Hello Kitty Happy Joyous Opening Ceremony to Games in Glorious Slayjing City. That’s a lot to spend on a pig’s lipstick.

    What did those murderous bastards wish to convey? That it’s all right to pick them up; they won’t bite. As they passed delayed censored and manupulated feeds to our trusted friends at NBC, which agreed to this disgusting arrangement, we were told that the bloody Chicoms took as their theme, “One World, One Dream”. Inveterated spies and sensors that those old-guard thugs are, it should come as no surprise that they plagiarized Peter Gabriel, whose sense of irony is better than that of the Chinese Generals. Gabriel’s version, again:

    we do what we’re told
    told to do

    one doubt
    one voice
    one war
    one truth
    one dream!

    THAT is what those swine meant to convey with their Cirque du SinoPlay.

  26. Hugo says:

    Errata: inveterate spies and censors

  27. Jon Taplin says:

    Hugo-I teach a lot of wonderful Chinese Students. Quite a few of them read this blog. I wish you would stop all these slurs against a whole country. It’s very unlike you.

  28. Jon Taplin says:

    Alex Bowles- I was knocked out by your analysis of this dichotomy. I think a free and open society can both protect people’s privacy (relatively simple “opt out” procedures) and still protect copyright. I know that a lot of netizens think Copyright is for the birds, but the recently mentioned Levon Helm would be a lot better off if people respected The Band’s copyrights.

  29. Hugo says:


    I would never slur the Chinese People nor their great culture, which has been debased for too many generations by murderous hoodlums. Please note that I always identify the Chinese junta, or, alternatively, “the Generals”, as the baddies. The People, I’ll say EMPHATICALLY, deserve to have their freedom, and their great and supremely important culture back, unedited. Did you know that Mao ordered the Forbidden City razed?

    My beloved sister-in-law and my best friend are Taiwanese. Her uncle is a leader in the pro-democracy, anti-mainland movement on the Island, and he has man scars and many years behind bars to show for it. (Slayjing has its shills on Taiwan, where the people are weakening, and falling for the junta’s Sirens’ song.) My best friend, David, and I helped to facilitate the Tiananmen uprising (USC did too), and I am Godfather to his son, an American.

    I too once had wonderful students from the PRC. I mean really extraordinary students. They knew that they were being surveiled by Chinese intelligence, some of whom posed as students and actually followed, physically, some of my students about. (Sen. Feinstein, a fine lady, at the time put in a formal protest of China’s spy games, and she’s taken many actions to oppose their increasing humint presence on the West Coast.) Come Tiananmen, these spooks did an urgent and unsubtle bed-check at my California campus, but at least two of my people were gone: gone to the distinguished Beijing University and thence to Tiananmen, below the overlooking university buildings, feverishly sending us handwritten faxes as they periodically would fall to the floor, onto broken glass, to avoid the raking machine-gun fire coming through the destroyed windows from the armor below in the street.

    One of my friends came out, after six months overland, from safe-house to safe-house, usually on foot and by night, dogged all the way by the Giant Eye of that ruthless Police State. Finally he made it to Shanghai, and onto a foreign cargo vessel that took him to Tawain, whence Tokyo and San Francisco. The bravest, and runner-up for the strongest, man I ever met, the Rev. KiSung Kim.

    So yes, I do hate something in this world: the Chinese government. I pray that it falls by the end of our year.

    And I’d like to make a plea to anyone who reads this blog to contribute funds for expanding the bandwith of radio broadcasts into China. Back at Tiananmen, that use of faxes: a famous use of the new telecom tech; a near breakthrough. Today, satellite radio. Same gig.

    Oh, and what the censors in Slayjing didn’t find fit to release to NBC was the all-but secret lighting of the Olympic torch at the center of this Olympiad: Tiananmen Square, on the very spot upon which the plaster Lady of Freedom was errected in 1989.

    If I have offended any of you Chinese nationals who are students of Professor Taplin’s or otherwise are denizens of this outstanding website, I assure you that the breach was unintentional, and I am sorry for being unclear in distinguishing you, the Best of China, from the scumbuckets who run your country. I hope you stay in the U.S. as long as you like — rather than as long as Beijing would like — and that, should you return to your magnificent country, you will find its present leaders hanged and cremated.

  30. len bullard says:

    “This says that Individualism and Collectivism are, frankly, devoid of any self-governing moral content in and of themselves. Rather, they are simply tools – conceptual frameworks for establishing vital social cohesion. ”

    The problem with those dichotomies is scale. We can neither eliminate individual effort by calling these spam (Crowds don’t paint the Mona Lisa) nor fail to recognize the need for collective effort (Wikipedia is pretty good. Caveat emptor).

    The IP problem is real. We had to deal with the issue in standards communities and we defaulted to consortia at one point (the W3C) and then to partnerships between consortia and standards organizations. (See Web3D Consortium).

    The problem was this: as long as IP holders could contribute to standards without inspection, they could submarine their patents and control the markets. If we told them outright they could not contribute, we cut off public access to innovation.

    We took the middle path. Anyone who is a member signs the participation agreement. This put transparency of terms at the front of the transaction. The agreement favors unencumbered contributions but if necessary, the members can work out terms for RAND. So far so good. We actually had to stand up to some Very Large Corporations and tell them to walk and it cost us considerably in terms of growth and influence. What we decided was we could sustain slow growth and stay with our values and that is what we did. Results:

    1. A VRML world built in 1996 still runs in an X3D browser built in 2007.

    2. An X3D world just works.

    3. There is a tradeoff. We can’t use open lists for working groups. We maintain them for community purposes, but anyone who contributes ideas has to be a member and has to be on a closed list.

    But despite the hype for Second Life etc., the only international standards and long lifecycle content comes from the group that said its values were more important than its growth thus defying the network meme wisdom in favor of the locale wisdom.

    Evolution favors small determined groups over large passionate but ultimately directionless and vulnerable masses.

    That was the lesson of the Haight, Jon. The Diggers had the right idea.

  31. Hugo says:

    len bullard,

    While I don’t understand some of your technical language aimed at Jon, two things in you post strike me deeply, in different ways.

    Small-group relations is far more important than solo, one-on-one, or mass relations (see Olympic Opening Wingding). Somehow, it is the Unit of Change. There is some careful — really superlative — study of this, as I’m sure you know. And not only Native Americans but also the world’s animal kingdom offer much insight into this vague, but surprisingly proved-out, hypothesis.

    Second, and speaking of Indigenous Peoples, the Diggers were “en belay” when they were needed most. Bless them. I believe they saved my brother’s life in you-know-where in 1967. They are still Elders, to me.

  32. Jon Taplin says:

    Len- I think the development of Linux put a lie to your thesis. A million different coders, 30,000 man years of free coding time. You are stuck in an old world man, and yet you show all the signs of awareness. It’s kind of wierd.

  33. len says:

    It’s not a lie, Jon. Your understanding is uncoordinated. 😉 It isn’t about free. Free is a side effect. It is about sustainable effort that does no harm.

    First, Linux is an n of 1. Open source fails more often than it succeeds. The values of the community are the difference as well as the participation agreements and means of enforcement.

    1. If you look at Linux development you find it is the ultimate in rankism (the new ism referenced hereabouts). It isn’t a flat set of contributors and contributions.

    2. There is a very specific contract for making changes and a hierarchy of authority over the distros (no forking). For communication theorists at the gateway to the new world, think Mayflower Compact.

    3. There is a very specific humorless tester: a computer. It compiles or it doesn’t. The feedback is fast and irrefutable.

    There is more but you aren’t a comp-sci guy so this goess off screen too quickly. If you understand basic cybernetics, it is a third-order system for feedback-mediated evolution.

    You might want to check your maps in a Hayakawa sense. In a physics metaphor, you are trying to get to escape velocity with a Hohman transfer. You need to understand low-energy transfers. It’s slower but greener.

    In something closer to home, semiotic dynamics, in a dynamical polytrope under stress, the edge cases will assert ever more extreme behaviors to retake control (assertion of meaning, or dominating definition) and reduce the stress. That’s where your tribe is at right now.

    Where there are insufficient stabilizing nodes, the violence is swift and often mindless. Thus the flame war and the occasional idiot shooting an official. Be smart. Go slow. Go cold. Manson wasn’t aberrant. He was inevitable. As the Chinese said (it’s been a while so the quote is inexact), “Nixon isn’t a failure of your system. He is the finest example of it.”

    Awareness is not something you can teach. Like love, it is something you do, not something you have. That’s what the Diggers knew. It isn’t a scam for votes or a means of naming names to become popular. It is a controlled and deliberately gentle push and pull to train the system toward a set of goal states which are sustainable and evolvable.

    I am quite aware and very practiced. Your turn.

  34. Jon Taplin says:

    Len-About 73% of worldwide web servers run on Apache, the Linux based server. If it failed more than it succeeded the web would be run on Microsoft Web servers. But it’s not.

    Spare me the nerd giberish. I knew Emmet Grogan , Peter Coyote and the diggers. You don’t have a clue.

  35. len says:

    Whatever you say, Jon. It has to be right for you I guess. Sometimes perspective is about distance though, not being inside the echo chamber.

    But I know a lot more about Linux and Microsoft servers than you do and they don’t work because of programmers throwing mud at a wall to see what sticks.

  36. len says:

    Whatever you say, Jon. It has to be right for you I guess. Sometimes perspective is about distance though, not being inside the echo chamber.

    But I know a lot more about Linux and Microsoft servers than you do and they don’t work because of programmers throwing mud at a wall to see what sticks.

  37. Fentex says:

    Just for the record, I slipped up on a date – I meant the 1974 Commonwealth Games, not 1972 (which was an Olympic games year).

  38. Fentex says:

    Just for the record, I slipped up on a date – I meant the 1974 Commonwealth Games, not 1972 (which was an Olympic games year).

  39. Fentex says:

    I suppose while I’m at it I might mention I have seen ‘Triumph of will’ and understand references to Leni Riefenstahl as a propagandist for Nazi Germany.

    Still don’t see why evidence of Chinese Totalitarianism and/or collective will is seen in a demonstrated ability to choreograph a staged show.

    Nobody ever claimed it of Broadway or Hollywood musical producers for being good choreographers.

  40. I am So Proud of Being A Chinese says:

    To be honest, I did not want to write comments here, especially on those topics closely related to my motherland China. Professor Taplin is such an excellent professor, and we all respect him very much, for he taught us valuable knowledge and information, enlarge our sights, and gave us a fair platform in and out of the classroom to speak out our views and voices, even though he and we might hold different views and attitudes towards many things. However, we still treat each other like friends, at least I sincerely take him as one of my friends, because all of our discussions and communications are based on mutual respect, and also because just as Professor Taplin once told me, “that is a good example of democracy at work”. Yes, I saw a lot of good examples of democracy at work on Professor Taplin’s blog. “Someone supports Obama, someone supports Clinton and they begin arguing. Sometimes I join in the argument. It doesn’t mean I don’t like my friends, it just means we have a vocal difference of opinion and when they leave my house I have no less respect for them”. Even though Professor Taplin once posted blogs critical of China, I saw very good examples of democracy that many comments which are apparently from American voices still represented different views, and tried to acknowledge some of the mistakes the US and the media has made on China’s issues.

    I once told Professor Taplin why I did not show any words on his blog. It is because that “I don’t want to make some of the people here feel embarrassed about what he or she said”. I respect Professor Taplin, so I chose showing enough “respect” to his friends (even though some people really do not deserve my respect), so in the past I commented nothing to those of who behaved so rude and impolite like a jerk!

    Good communications really require good mutual respect and understanding and knowledge towards two sides’ cultural and social backgrounds. The west took China and the Chinese people’s keeping quiet on many issues as a sign of being guilty, which is totally wrong!! We kept quiet and did not argue too much on many things, because firstly, we believed “A straight foot is not afraid of a crooked shoe”, and secondly, our Chinese culture values “Harmony” and “Politeness” so much, and we believe it is not worthwhile to break our good relations and friendships with other countries and people only by a few jerks’ ridiculous sayings! Just like Jack Cafferty, if he did not be so stupid and shouted out his stupid words through the public media program, who would have cared what he said and how he spoke! This is the problem with freedom–even the jerks are allowed to have their say! Thirdly, sometimes, some of those issues and topics were so ridiculous and did not deserve time to deal with them!

    I remember one of my friends once told me a story! An American journalist once interviewed him for the Tibet issue, because the journalist felt surprised to see so many Chinese people especially the young students both in the US and all over other countries in the world showed up, argued and debated against all the lies that Dalai Lama told the west media and people, and fought the image of China! The journalist was so surprised why “the quiet Chinese people” reacted so intensely?! He thought the Chinese students’ “patriotism stemmed from the government’s efforts to use the schools to instill national pride”, and he asked if there are many governmental spies hided in the Chinese universities and controlled all the students’ thoughts, sayings and behaviors, and if anyone speaks his or her unlikeness to the Chinese government, he or she would be immediately arrested and put into jail. Hahahahaha!!!! So ridiculous and funny! How could we reply?! What should we reply?! A big laugh “Ha-ha-ha-ha-ha” is the best reply to such ridiculous questions, which represented how little and limited knowledge this journalist has on the real modern China and the real Chinese society! Unfortunately, there are still a bundle of western media workers and people, knowing little about China nor the Chinese cultures nor histories, never being to China before or never being to China in the recent 30 years, but still pretending that they know everything about China and they are experts on the Chinese issues and what they heard from other sources about China were the “facts”! Such people do exist!! They dislike China only because of their subjectivism and nescience and selfishness and narrow-minded attitudes, and they used their mouths and pens and keyboards to negatively influence other people’s views about China, and to distort and smear the REAL China! That is what really happened in the civilized world!!

    Is China perfect? Is the Chinese government perfect? Absolutely not! Just like any country and any government in the world including the US and the American government, we have our own problems, and we once made mistakes in the process of development. As a Chinese young people receiving elementary education, junior and senior high school education, and university education in China, I can tell you that no matter for the Chinese government or the Chinese people, we know what we did incorrectly and we know how to self-question ourselves, and the most importantly, we admit the mistakes we once made and we always fact up to them with an object attitude, and we know how to learn lessons from mistakes such as the cultural revolution. If you understand Chinese languages and words, then welcome you to visit the classes in China’s schools, and welcome you to read the course books especially the history course books in China. I promise you would find out the facts that are totally contrary to what you thought or heard. Take the Cultural Revolution for example. Nearly every Chinese people including the youth would tell you that it was a nightmare and it was a huge mistake. The historical books and courses that the Chinese students received from our high schools and universities let us understand why it happened, and why it was wrong, and what can we learn from that event… Both Chinese government and people admit we did wrong things at that time, and we are telling our generations the past events, and let all people learn lessons from the history. Our Chinese professors in universities also discussed with students about some unfair things happened in China, and criticized some officials’ breach of duty. I can tell you that some of those critiques are much more pungent and sharp and sarcastic than the western voices. Believe it or not!

    The real Chinese people criticizing China and the government because we love China, and we hope our country and the government can learn lessons and behave better in the future. Our people’s critiques are positive-oriented with an object view and a fair attitude. Of course, a part of critics from our western friends is also positive-oriented, and we always welcome such object suggestions and advices from our friends. However, there still another part of critiques from other countries sound so unfriendly and narrow-minded and subject and disgusting without any rational reasons and logics, and ironically some of them are even based on wrong “facts”, just as what some of the western media did on the Tibet issue: they cut pictures and reshaped the whole story by their wishes, which was so “talented”!! (in Chinese: ning tai you cai le! 您太有才了!)

    When the protestors in San Francisco shouted and wanted to ruin the Olympics Torch Relay, a very funny thing which was witnessed by our USC Chinese students there was that: a western European or American woman jumped onto the platform and began shouting full of passion: “Free Taibei! Free Taibei! ” At that time another man stood on the side of the platform rushed to her and stopped her and said: “Oh no no no no! It is free Tibet. Not free Taibei!”. Then the woman began shouting full of passion again: “Free Tibet! Free Tibet!” Haaaaahaaaa!!! That’s the most ridiculous and funniest thing I ever met in my life! Obviously this so-called protestor, she even did not know the difference between “Tibet” and “Taibei” (Taibei is the provincial capital of Taiwan Province). Another funny thing was that when the Chinese students asked some of the western protestors to point out the location of Tibet on the map, many of them were wordless and even did not know where Tibet is!! How can you believe and count on such so-called protestors’ words and sayings when they told you “with tears” that they were persecuted by the Chinese government?!

    I found a very interesting phenomenon that, a plenty of people who dislike China always criticized China by using the examples belonging to the long long past, or by using a part content of the events. They never analyzed and reviewed the events from the whole and thorough and profound perspectives. On the contrary, they just picked up a part and then began gushing out their so “professional” critiques…Well, anyone having taken GRE would know very clearly that in the writing part of argument, there are several crucial logic mistakes that you should have to point out: (1) Giving a slanted view of the issue by focusing only on one side. (2) Drawing conclusions about groups of people on the basis of stereotypes. (3) Arriving at a conclusion without enough evidence. (4) Draws attention away from the evidence and leans on the popularity of someone who may have little knowledge of the issue or product. (5) Claiming that only one event caused another when there may be no real connection. (6) Assumes a chain of cause-effect relationships with very suspect connections. (7) The first part of the idea does not relate to the other. (8) Suggesting only two alternatives when the issue may be much more complex. (9) Attacking the person instead of the ideas. (10) Restating in different words what has already been stated. (11) Exploiting the audience’s feeling in order to get them on your side. (12) Ignoring the real causes of the questions… Well, if I were the ETS employee, I would take into consideration to put some ridiculous articles criticizing China into the database. :- )

    The person named HUGO once said, “…the Chinese wanna be the master, but they are masters of nothing. They are a nation of slaves…China’s days are numbered…” The words are soooo mean! Chinese people’s simple and natural wishes and beautiful wills to develop our country and improve people’s living standards were taken as an evil sign to harm and control other nations and countries! Ridiculous! And really soooo narrow-minded! Being master?! Who cares? We are never ever interested in being such a so-called “master of the world”! We just wanna make our country more beautiful, and enjoy the better life with our family and friends all over the world! And that’s all we want! Maybe it is you who really want to be the master of the world and have the desire for power, right?! God always says that a person’s sayings always reflect how he or she thinks of himself/herself! If you think that what I or other Chinese said are partial or influenced by the propaganda, how can you prove that what you heard or what you thought about China and the Chinese issues are not partial and not influenced by the propaganda?!

    Then, HUGO, you once said, “These empty Olympic Games soon will have been seen as a swansong unawares… I wouldn’t bet on the favorite…” It is no need for me to waste any of my words here! The facts are so enough to refute your “forecast” and so enough to help you realize the reality!

    I have many American friends, and I found that they like China and the Chinese people because they really know China and the people, and have experienced the real China by themselves. In USC Annenberg, I know many of my American friends who once have been to China before are so thrilled to find chances and go back China again. You know what, some of my Chinese friends in the USC told me that in their schools, they received emails from American professors, which said “Congratulations to all of our students from China on an incredibly spectacular opening ceremony for the Olympic Games last night! You must be very proud of your country’s achievement in producing, by all agreement, the most impressive opening ceremony in Olympic history. This was a wonderful way for China to present itself on the world stage to people all over the globe who have no idea of the awesome progress made by China in recent years. I have been traveling to China for 20 years, since my first venture to Guanzhou in the fall of 1988, and I have seen with my own eyes what China has accomplished during that time, but I think most of the world, including our people in the U.S., have little idea of how rapidly China has joined the leading powers of the international community. Best wishes to you and your people for a great Olympic Games and a bright future for China!”

    I love my motherland China, and I am always so proud of being a “China Born Chinese”, for I know how beautiful my country and my people are, how nice and hospitable they would be to friends, and how strong and perseverant they would be when encountering twists and turns, difficulties and challenges. China and Chinese people, we love the world, and love all the citizens in the earth sharing the world with us. Living in the world, no matter who you are and where you are from, we firstly human beings, then Americans, Chinese, Japanese, German, English… Why not we just treating each other with kindness and respect and smiles?! It is absolutely no need for us to dislike or hate or criticize each other because of some irrational reasons even distorted or stereotyped impressions. Life is like a mirror. When you smile to it, you will get a smiling face in return. If there were misunderstandings or mistakes happened in the past, then how about just letting them gone! You cannot live forever in the past! Life is going on! And additionally, in most of the time, things are complex and have many hidden folds, which might be hard for you to know very clearly from the first sight! Why not giving ourselves some time and chances to realize it from thorough and comprehensive perspectives, and don’t be in a hurry to draw an unreliable conclusion. Furthermore, nothing or nobody in the world is perfect! People did wrong things, but people still did right things. For instance, we lost millions of brothers and sisters in the Sino-Japanese War, and those Japanese soldiers killed the Chinese people by using the most brutal and inhumane methods… Time goes by, it is still really hard to say that we forgive them for all the terrible things that they did to our country and people… However, we don’t hate the whole Japan nor all the Japanese people, and we still sincerely respect them in many other aspects, and we still appreciate and thank them very much for their warm helps when China and the Chinese people encountered the horrible Wenchuan Earthquakes.

    When my country and my people win the Olympics golds, I feel so proud and excited; and when I know we have one Annenberg sister winning the gold, I also felt so proud and happy! I feel happy for every medal winner, and I feel regretful for those who lost medals because of some accidents…I don’t see any conflict or disharmony on such a “Love” to all. All the athletes are gorgeous! Their great efforts, perseverance, and Olympic spirits deserve every people’s respect and applause! I believe that is the best illustration of “One world! One Dream! ” And that is why you can see and hear our Chinese people’s applauses and “well-done” congratulations from the stadium to other countries’ athletes. You know what, that is what we value so much in our Chinese cultures and traditions as “philanthropism” or “wide-love”, or, “harmony”!

    HUGO, honestly, since it seems you are one of Professor Taplin’s friends, my friends and I always kept quiet in the past even though many of your words to our motherland and our people made us feel so uncomfortable! I always told myself that maybe it is due to lacking good communication, or maybe it is caused by the negative impressions from other fake sources. Misunderstandings can be cleaned out by mutual good understanding and communications, and maybe with the time, people’s attitudes will be changed by what they feel and witness with their own eyes…

    However, this time, since you used the words “swine” and “the murderous bastards” to describe my dear motherland and my nice and hospitable people, and described the so beautiful and gorgeous performances on Beijing’s 2008 Olympics Opening Ceremony as “that’s a lot to spend on a pig’s lipstick”, and those insulting and mean words really went beyond the bottom line too much, I really think that as a Chinese, I have to say something here! I really think you own China and the Chinese people an apology! I believe what I am saying and typing here are the facts. I have lived in China for more than 24 years, and I have witnessed with my own eyes how China is growing up and how much better my motherland is becoming in nearly every aspect of the society. So, please, next time, when you want to be mean to China again, please, please, remember to use some “facts” that you really experienced by yourself rather than by some of your “friends” or whoever else, some of which were so old stereotypes and some of which were distorted impressions. And please be sure that all the things you try to influence others are the real “facts”!! When you could not be sure that the things are the real whole stories, please don’t try to influence other people’s views and impressions. God is looking at us at any time! He knows whether we are telling people the truth!

    Hugo-Since you believed “China’s days are numbered”, sincerely, I wish you would live healthily for a long long time, and witness with your own eyes how prosperous and happy China and the Chinese people will be !!

  41. Hugo says:

    I’m sorry. I thought I made it amply clear that my various harsh remarks about China were directed at the Chinese regime, which I loathe, and not at the Chinese People nor your nation’s great cultural heritage and ancient tradition of scholarship. (A tradition I was pleased to see in full flower in the days when I too taught brilliant Chinese graduate students.) It is the regime that will, I believe, soon fall, to be replaced by structures of governance far more favorable for your countrymen and country women.

    You complain that detractors of the PRC seem to base their animosities on events of long ago, yet you choose as your example the Cultural Revolution. How about a more recent example? What do you think of the government’s 1989 performance, with respect to its citizens gathered in Tiananmen Square? Where in Beijing does the Olmpic Flame burn? Do you suppose that some of those gathering in that place 1989 had studied at USC?

    What do you think of the government’s approach to birth control and to enforcement of the one-child-per-family law?

    Why does the regime hold five Catholic bishops in prison, ignoring international petitions for their release?

    What accounts for the regime’s skyrocketing military expenditures over the past 10 years?

    Also, I have heard, read and met His Holiness the Dalai Lama. He is not a liar.
    Say, wha

  42. jonolan says:


    Westerners always seem so apologetic when dealing with the Chinese,carefully repeating that we’re angry at the Chinese government and not the Chinese people. Why?

    One – Those Chinese people, led by the butcher Mao, proved that no government can exist in China that its people don’t approve of. The majority of the Chinese must support he PRC’s actions or they would have followed Mao’s orders and overthrown it – as Mao counseled them to do every decade or so.

    Two – The toxic products being shipped to other countries are being made and shipped by the Chinese people, not the PRC. We can’t really blame their government for the selfish and evil actions China’s businessmen and factory owners.

    Why not just be honest? There’s a huge amount of behaviors and attitudes among the Chinese people that Westerners consider vile. Yeah, they’re not all alike and not all of them subscribe to such views, but enough do to support their State and their State’s regime and policies against the world.

  43. Hugo says:

    Because I was dealing with an aggrieved student of Prof. Taplin’s, and I too am an educator.

    Had this student been one of mine 19 years ago, it would have been my job in part to clarify the distinctions between our two systems and run the student back against his or her own goverment. But then he or she might have been turned to human pulp on the Square, as so many were. So many, who nearly succeeded.

  44. Jon Taplin says:

    Proud of Being Chinese-I want you to know that the rude words of some of the posters on this blog do not reflect my feelings towards the wonderful Chinese students I have taught and will continue to teach. As you know, we found a way last semester to have an honest argument over Tibet in which everyone left feeling respected.

    Hopefully my correspondents will learn some manners.

  45. jonolan says:

    I do so hope you’re not including me in that lump of “correspondents.” I would hope your Chinese readers understand that some of their culture and behaviors is inimitable to the Western mindset. I know some of our culture and behaviors is inimitable to theirs.

  46. Hugo says:

    Inimitable? Inscrutable?

    I’ve never felt antipathy toward Chinese people, though I’ve had an argument or two with my beloved Chinese sister-in-law, and my Chinese best-friend sets me straight sometimes, much as Jon does.

    At times I’ve felt nothing more than annoyance at some of the quirks of Chinese culture: the indirectness, the beating around the bush, of their belletristics and narrative style (as witness our Proud Chinese correspondent); the ornate superstitions. Mostly the closest I’ve come to discomfort has been brief embarrassment due the depth of my ignorance of a culture more than 4,000 years deep.

    I just hate (and I mean, real hatred; the only hatred I’ve ever felt) their blasted regime, and I indict and mock and ridicule the thugs every chance I get, in all kinds of fora. It’s an old habit — as is boycotting their goods, a discipline that’s really pretty easy to acquire.

    The government is so unutterably beneath the greatness of the People and their culture. I’ve apologized twice, first in general to any Chinese or Sinophiles who mistook my gaping distinction and took offense because of my lack of clarity. (Try reading a classic Chinese essay sometime — but I kid.) It’s really our traditional American candor and bluntness that throws them for a loop, as it annoys not only the Chinese but a great many people in most of the Asian societies, and Britain and New Guinea, and so on.

    But surely Annenberg has several courses in propaganda — its history and methods. I would would and do urge our tolerant host, who himself knows a great deal about the subject, to steer our correspondent Proud of Being Chinese into one of those courses, before he or she becomes another piece of the problem, rather than of the solution. Were I Chinese, I’d be damned proud too, but I’d still hate the government and try to DO something about it. And I certainly wouldn’t go around spouting happy joyous rhetoric and gambits and historical necrophilia that the Junta has put out over the years.

    Begging your pardons, of course, and wishing you God’s Grace in your pursuit of harmony, &tc. “Above truth, manners.”

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