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The Western Elite from a Chinese Perspective (americanaffairsjournal.org)
533 points by monsieurpng 4 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 224 comments



"... randomness is not merely the noise but the dominant factor. And those reasons we assign to historical events are often just ex post rationalizations. As rising generations are taught the rationalizations, they conclude that things always happen for a reason. "

I didn't realize it until contemplating this statement, but this applies to interpersonal relationships as well as nations. It is the root of tolerance and acceptance. People wind up where they are largely through circumstance, not intention. Circumstance may be as finite as meeting a person in a purely random situation who then goes on to change your life.

Yet we lionize persons we deem successful and study what led them there, rationalizing that the set of attributes that we can observe about them must be the cause of their success. And in speaking with them personally, you'll find, in many cases, impostor syndrome because they understand the randomness that played in their favor.

I make a conscious effort to keep that in mind. It helps keep me from becoming judgmental.


I see the world as a giant lake full of ships going into different directions and sometimes turning around randomly.

As an individual, you can try to get to steer a ship or you can try to jump to ships you cross with that go in other directions.

Both strategies have a random aspect but if you know where you want to go, and act accordingly on the opportunities presented to you, you can progress toward your goal in an uncertain goal.

The main takeaways are that the world does not owe anything to anyone, even to smart kids, and that merit is hard to discern from luck.


But sometimes you don’t even know where to go or your direction might be wrong. Randomly jumping ships you discover a friend that shows you a secret direction. Alternatively you are born with a very fast ship from your parents and can cover more distance.

But you are right. Some people make the most of opportunities given to them, some just let it go thinking they have no influence over their life.


I think part of the point of the parable is that speed does not matter as there is no 'goal'. We all are just wandering about aimlessly enjoying the wind and sunshine. Sure, some move faster, but just to the other side of the big lake to have to scoot around. Some don't move at all and work on their tans. If you like the wind in your hair, find/make a fast boat.

(I think the parable starts to break down though. How to describe nations, laws, gender issues, etc? It's too much for such a 'happy' story to go into any depth.)


The point is that you have to know where you want to go before wondering if you should jump into a new ship or reach a position where you can steer your ship.

I see a lot of people trying to get power or changing situation without having a plan or a goal. They spend a lot of energy going nowhere.

But to each his own I guess.


Leo Tolstoy took about 1400 pages to make exactly this point in War and Peace :)


Hmm, I didn't get that impression. Could you elaborate?


> "... randomness is not merely the noise but the dominant factor. And those reasons we assign to historical events are often just ex post rationalizations. As rising generations are taught the rationalizations, they conclude that things always happen for a reason. "

Took me some time to realize that. I haven't seen it so nicely formulated before, though.


I read an interrsting theory that explains all things in the universe as simply circumstantial symmetry which exist at different places in pure chaos/randomness.

For a given period of time, you can find symmetry in subsets of chaos, and thus it can appear predictable or deterministic from that perspective. But the truth might be that we're just specifically looking for it.


"People wind up where they are largely through circumstance, not intention. "

There may be a lot of randomness on the way to becoming, or almost becoming a doctor, but you don't get to be a doctor by randomness.

See what I mean?

You get to be a doctor only with quite a very long term intent and perseverance, by stacking the odds, and rolling the dice a lot.

Though I get what you are saying - I also don't think that most people as of yet realize how much actual control they have over themselves and their lives, and they can possibly make it better. That's still a huge hurdle for a lot of people.

I suppose those that have jumped that hurdle could often learn a little empathy for those with bad dice :)


Well if you really want to maximise your odds of becoming a doctor, the best thing you can do for yourself is choose your parents wisely.

Don't choose to be born in a slum in a third world country, or a trailer park, thats gonna hurt your chances. Make sure you don't pick a family that will abuse you as you grow up. Try to make sure you at least get average genetics for general intelligence and memory (50% of people won't...).

Ideally, choose to have at least one doctor as a parent (increases your odds by more than an order of magnitude). A good mentor or role model at the right time could substitute though.

Of course, people _can_ control their own lives, but most people who succeed at becoming doctors were both lucky AND hard working.

And I'd be willing to be that though they did work like hell to do it, a lot of doctors "sleepwalked into it" because a teacher at school or a parent told them thats what they should do.


> Well if you really want to maximise your odds of becoming a doctor, the best thing you can do for yourself is choose your parents wisely.

Like you said we have been blessed by the hard work of those who went before us and in turn we can raise the next generation to be even more prosperous than us.


" the best thing you can do for yourself is choose your parents wisely."

Maybe.

I'd rather have a good worth ethnic than 'rich parents' on the road to becoming a doctor anywhere in the Western world.

There are innumerable lazy rich kids and they won't be getting into med school.


Amazing how downvotes correlate with the political opinion of the people here. And then you see comments like "I haven't even seen anti net neutrality arguments at all.. Why would the FCC do that?" You choose to close your eyes, you get a seemingly dark world.


"Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity." - Seneca the Younger

> You get to be a doctor only with quite a very long term intent and perseverance, by stacking the odds, and rolling the dice a lot.

I like that way of putting it.


> You get to be a doctor only with quite a very long term intent and perseverance, by stacking the odds, and rolling the dice a lot.

So what do you think is the value of P(becoming doctor | intent and perseverance)? If it's only 50%, then I'd argue that whether someone succeeds in becoming a doctor or not is indeed quite random.

And maybe more relevant, but what are the factors that cause someone to have strong willpower and perseverance, and were those under their own control?


> And maybe more relevant, but what are the factors that cause someone to have strong willpower and perseverance, and were those under their own control?

And that's the question, isn't it? Depending on where you draw your battery limits, you can take credit (and responsibility) for absolutely everything, or absolutely nothing.

To quote Tim Minchin, from his speech to UWA grads:

> Remember it’s all luck. You are lucky to be here. You are incalculably lucky to be born and incredibly lucky to be brought up by a nice family who encouraged you to go to uni. Or if you were born into a horrible family that’s unlucky and you have my sympathy but you are still lucky. Lucky that you happen to be made of the sort of DNA that went on to make the sort of brain which when placed in a horrible child environment would make decisions that meant you ended up eventually graduated uni. Well done you for dragging yourself up by your shoelaces. But you were lucky. You didn’t create the bit of you that dragged you up. They’re not even your shoelaces.

> I suppose I worked hard to achieve whatever dubious achievements I’ve achieved but I didn’t make the bit of me that works hard any more than I made the bit of me that ate too many burgers instead of attending lectures when I was here at UWA. Understanding that you can’t truly take credit for your successes nor truly blame others for their failures will humble you and make you more compassionate. Empathy is intuitive. It is also something you can work on intellectually.


But then, you didn't really make the part of you that make you humble.


Humility is not a line in your genome, it's a decision.


I have no way of knowing if that's true or false; mine was just a reply to:

> [..] but I didn’t make the bit of me that works hard [..] understanding [that] will humble you

with the half-serious logical extension: if the "bit of you that makes you prone to work hard" is inherited then perhaps also the "bit of you that makes you prone to be humble" can be inherited as well.


At some level most traits relevant to success are at least somewhat genetically influenced (intelligence, however measured, is estimated to be over 50% heritable). I'm sure willpower and perseverance are similar, and in that sense being hard working is kinda a roll of the dice, sure.

But if we go that far, then almost everything about you is just random chance. Congratulations, we've realized that we're not special, but products of evolution, and some of us are more fit than others in certain environments. What practical difference should that make?


Keep zooming out and we're all little hypertriangles in some N-dimensional cellular automaton, and there's no such thing as 'meaning', just patterns of higher or lower entropy. Don't think too much about it or it'll just make you depressed.


Nihilism isn't the only option. This is a decent starting guide if you're curious: https://meaningness.com/


Bit of a late reply, sorry, but I didn't mean that nihilism was the answer. I just meant that humans aren't well equipped, emotionally, to deal with the universe at scales too different from those at which we evolved.

You just can't afford to 'zoom out' too far. Focus on immediate small scale things, watch a beautiful sunset, hug your kids, ride a motorbike, eat your favourite meal. Focus on near-term goals like "bootstrap my company" or "reach my fitness goals". Worry about little problems that you can solve. Make someone smile. Smell the roses.

You can stay intellectually aware of the fact that we're transient pond scum on the surface of a space rock in an infinite, arbitrary universe. Just don't dwell on it.


This is in fact one of the main points of the article. Chinese way of criticism. If you are unable to accept the criticism it is perfectly fine to read it as supportive of your point of view of the world. Actually the article says you need to work your ass off to succeed. Life just sucks because sometimes even with hard work you can't always get all you want.


I find it interesting that the author only considers America from the top down - from the perspectives of institutions (Stanford, Goldman Sachs, Costco) and slogans (American Dream, All people deserve to live healthy lives). Part of me wonders if that’s due to America's own marketing, or due to his upbringing in a more totalitarian government, but for most Americans these perspectives are just as foreign.

At dinner tables and in churches all across the country, you hear people say "God is in control”. You’ll hear reminders to be humble and appreciate what you have, because anyone can get ill at any time, or lose all all their belongings in fire, or any number of bad events. The chaos out there is real, whether one believes in it or not. And there's an even bigger danger in trying to control the chaos, and history has plenty of examples (Mao's China and USSR most recent). The limited government in America was founded on a distrust of power, top-down control, and people who want to control the world. Without that bottom-up perspective, America will never make sense.


This is a good point, but there's an awful lot of post-hoc Just World fallacy wrapped up in those same statements of faith. The really spurious ones - like 9/11 or Katrina being divine punishment - get media coverage but there're more bland ones that are actually more harmful; like disease or disaster being all part of God's plan. It's all good for living a life where you have to cope with what you can't directly control, but not so good when it comes to supporting policy that aims to take action on healthcare, climate change, etc. I'm not saying this to support any specific existing policy proposal, just that when/if the "right" one comes it's unlikely to undergo a rational debate.


How does that tie with the statistics showing US citizens - and in particular more religious people - as good donors for charities and disaster victims? Seems contradictory.


It's complicated & kind of orthogonal. I am not trying to paint all religious people with the Pat Robertson-style example that I pointed out as egregious. This isn't an anti-religion post; it's just about the downside of thinking something was destined/planned/ordained just because it happened.


I wasn't accusing you of being anti-religion, just honestly curious :)


Have you considered that charity and donation campaigns are perhaps more necessary in the US due to lack of social safety nets and governmental disaster relief?


Sure, but if it's the widespread belief in a Just World that prevents those safety nets and governmental disaster relief programs, wouldn't it also lead people to not donate?


How to measure the "religiosity" of people?

While I haven't looked at the statistics, I can easily imagine that's the result of religious communities/institutions having better infrastructure/peer structure in place to motivate donations, at least vs "unorganized unreligious" people which rarely organize on a similar scale.

Pretty much all religious institutions are dependent on regular donations coming in, they are organizations build to motivate people to donate and keep those donations coming.

In that regard, it shouldn't really be that surprising that they end up being overrepresented when they use these "powers" to collect donations for a non-religious cause. Could just as well be interpreted as the temporary redirection of a revenue stream that'd otherwise just go to said religious institutions, in the form of the regular donations of their members.

Depending on the methodology of the statistics this could actually be checked for: Do "more religious" people actually donate "more" during times of non-religious crisis? Or do they merely have a bigger overall "donation budget", which they can use for these times, due to their religious donation obligation?


I would say that Basic Income the way Finland is just testing, is much better than random 'it makes me feel good' donations.

To clarify, it's better in the sense of creating better infrastructure/peer structure/social network.

It's also a difference not unlike between tips in America and a fair salary for waitresses in Europe.


Sympathy for a disaster and belief about its causes are different things.

If you think a natural disaster is the result of God's plan (and not e.g. climate change), it is perfectly congruent to both contribute to healing in the form of charity, while also being disinterested in climate change regulation.


"post-hoc Just World fallacy wrapped up in those same statements of faith"

Not really.

We have built a progressively more just world - and it gets a little bit more just and civilized every generation that goes by.

It's only possible when most people have some kind of faith, however crude, as the grind away at it. It does not happen by accident - over the long haul, it requires a Will.


It does NOT require any sort of religious will, and I posit that religion will be a steadily larger impediment to further progress if it does not fade.

We have better and more nuanced ways of making the universe more just these days.


If you think that religious fervor is fading, look at all these people fighting for "just cases" of their choosing, from human rights to things like animal welfare. This fervor may be not attached to a belief in a particular deity, or something metaphysical at all. The feeling, and the mechanics, are still the same, to my mind.


" that religion will be a steadily larger impediment to further progress if it does not fade"

Religion, which is the application of Spirituality (however crude) was essential to the development of morality in humanity, and hence civilization. Much of it has been codified and secularized, but the underlying metaphysical value remains the same and nothing has replaced it.

Scientific Materialists, who can't even seem to grasp that Religion and Spirituality aren't just about 'believing in random stuff' and that these issues are grounded in an existential metaphysical premise - are the real problem.

The combustion engine and nuclear energy are parlour tricks.

Morality and humanity ... much harder.

Progress is not actually hindered that much by some odd religious people worrying about 'too much adultery or gay marriage' - it's hindered by Scientific Materialism which presumes a universe ordered by a specific set of equations - a philosophy which taken to it's full extent implies we are merely random bags of noise, in a random Universe ... and therefore denies the very fact of life itself, let alone love, creativity, intelligence, knowledge, wisdom etc.. It underlines even our most obvious existential challenge: Global Warming (i.e. technology too advanced for our collective morality).

Materialism is ultimately an empty, nihilist world view.

I'm not worried because those who hold it, directly or indirectly so lack faith (I mean that loosely), don't see themselves as part of a greater whole, so much so that they're much less willing to reproduce, and form a bizarre 'end of the evolutionary trail' cohort. Those with at least an inkling of faith - even if only in their bones and not their hearts, let alone minds - will form the future, write future history, and shape creation going forward. And most people do have some kind of faith, actually.

There's hope in the fact that I find usually in the most ardent materialists, it's just a matter of ego. The ego is usually the thing standing between an individual an their own recognition of 'that which is greater'. The Buddhists put it in pretty good, nearly secular terms when they refer to 'egolessness', which is a good place to start for anyone interested in getting it.

The ancient world has a lot of similar Promethean-type myths (i.e. Lucifer etc.) - who brought us fire/light ... but it's the 'fire' or 'light' in our hearts and souls that matters, not literally 'fire', which useful, but ultimately, missing the point.

Hints - Colombia motto: "In Thy light shall we see light", Yale motto: "Light and Truth", Dartmouth Motto: "A voice crying out in the wilderness", Cambridge Motto: ""From here, light and sacred draughts" ...

EDIT: sorry for the lengthy rant :)


It's a bit of a stretch (or at best a gross over-simplification) to exclusively group the concepts of religion/spirituality with love such that anyone who is not religious/spiritual must only care about "materialism". The rant is far too black & white, or us vs. them for my liking.


It's not 'Science v Religion' ... it's 'Materialism v Spirituality' - this is the fundamental Metaphysical debate of our era, really.


People don't like it if you tell them they can not feel love.


Materialism would posit that not only can you not 'feel' love, but there is definitely no such thing as it in the first place.

Tell me were is 'love' among a bunch of completely random particles, bouncing through the Universe?

There isn't.

Ergo, while Materialism is an extremely useful tool for understanding much of the universe around us - we have to remember that this is all it is - a tool. Science is a Framework, not a Truth.


> Religion, which is the application of Spirituality (however crude) was essential to the development of morality in humanity, and hence civilization.

As posited by religious people and writers of religious texts.

As a counterpoint, keep in mind that modern religions are massively syncretic and many of the moral issues were probably absorbed the same way some ancient cells absorbed mitochondria to create modern cells.

Also, that comment about nihilism is just misguided.

I feel as much spirituality in Carl Sagan vision of the stars being part of us and making us part of the universe, making us the universe observing itself, as you can feel with your books and promises of an afterlife.

I am going to die as well, and that fact makes my own life, and the lives of other people, the most sacred thing ever. No gods are needed to determine this fact.


You’re a bit behind the times old friend. Nihilism and existential crisis is only the first half. Dig further for the truth. ;)


An immigrant arriving from an external environment directly to those institutions would have significant exposure to those perspectives and not to others. USA is heterogeous and split into very different communities/tribes - while there are many and large communities like you describe, in many communities across the country, the dinner tables and churches aren't really a part of their daily life at all and people don't say "God is control"; and the communities that do don't interact much or deeply with the communities that don't.


I thought it was a good/enjoyable article and it shed light on many things for me.

Reading some of the comments below, and having known some Chinese people ( I am not east asian) I want to point out that it seems like many people missed the intention/ tone of the author. I think his intention was not to brag as some people have misunderstood, but to provide context to how he got to where he got to.

His communication style is different compared to the western style of communication. There is no single coherent message he is trying to drive purposefully or tacitly, but my guess is he was hoping you learn whatever you can from his experience and his way of thought.

Sure the article title could have had the words ‘random’ and ‘musings’ in the same sentence..... meh!


I got a sense of a sort of extremely dry, British humour, with a hint of self-deprecation, from it. Which I thoroughly enjoyed.


This is a story about randomness, the style follows.


> Her life, up to that point, was very similar to the life that I have been living. And I am sure that, at the time, she was as optimistic about her life as we are today about ours. But she went to the UK in 1935, and she went back to China around the founding of the People’s Republic of China. Her education abroad, in a capitalist country, and her belief in individual rights and freedom often placed her on the wrong side of various political campaigns and the Cultural Revolution. She lost numerous friends and family members, including her husband and daughter during these years. She barely survived a long period of imprisonment herself. It was not until the 1980s when she managed to get a passport and could move to live with her relatives abroad. On the ship to Hong Kong, she kept thinking about her decision to return to China all those years ago.

For those of you wondering, the book he was reading is "Life and Death in Shanghai" by Cheng Nien. For me, that was the most interesting part of the article.

I know very little about modern Chinese history and this seems like an interesting place to start.

https://www.amazon.com/Life-Death-Shanghai-Cheng-Nien/dp/080...


> (Someone once said that it is necessary to know English in order to learn about China. Important perspectives on China are only available in English and are generally not accessible on the mainland.)

I wonder what other books fall into this category?



Reading about the west from a Chinese perspective is a breath of fresh air. Similar in background to the author, I have come to the same conclusion; that everything in life is based on a bit of luck and achievement. He also absorbed, which is somewhat unusual in my opinion the differences between U.S. and the U.K. I think he has a much more nuanced view of all three societies that he has written.


I also come from a similar background, and his points also seem poignant to me -- the first, in my reading, is about the lottery of birth; would he or I or you have been successful (with presumably our predisposition to succeed in academia) in China merely 70 years ago? Perhaps not. The second, related, is that we should be grateful for the achievements which might naturally appear as the product of our own labor, and (I think) also to forgive others for the achievements that appear to be the product of their labor.

Though implicit, I think this article actually makes an interesting implication about jealousy. What exactly is there to be jealous of in another person if luck, and randomness plays so much in our fortunes?

This article is also a warning against self-help. So much determines our fortunes besides the advice we can take or the effort we make. The best is what -- rolling with the punches --


I agree with your points, except the part on jealously and warning against self-help. I view his life similar to investing, as he mentioned: being "long term greedy." I thought him and his parent's story illustrated this. It is unlikely that his parents had the best schooling in the world, but they were successful financially somewhat. When their son struggled in school, they enrolled him somewhere else and gave him more resources. He used that and achieve more by attending the most prestigious institution in the world. While it is likely that luck played a huge role, ie. China's market liberalization and growth, U.K. schools wanting to make more revenue, his stint at GS. He and his parents needed to be there in position the first place to take advantage of all of that. I do not think this is his point to warn against self help, rather than an examination of why and how he got to where he did.

Luck only comes when you are in position to seize it. Yes despite your best efforts, it might never come. But it can come when you never expect it because you are in the right place and the right time.


Eventually I was able to meet the chief financial officer of my favorite company, Costco. He told me that they don’t hire any MBAs. Everyone starts by pushing trolleys. (I have seriously thought about doing just that. But my wife is strongly against it.) Maybe, I thought, that is why the company is so successful—no MBAs!

that's pretty amazing..is this really true? So if someone applied for marketing or accounting, they would still have to push carts?


I did some consulting work at Costco. Their IT is all people that were once cashiers/trolley pushers. They pride themselves having staff loyal to the company and in turn take care of them. I would assume it's true pretty much everywhere else around the company.


Costco is infamously obsessed with seniority.


I don't know about Costco, but...

The MBA was originally designed for people who had worked their way up from the bottom, and needed to backfill the theory.


Originally. But of course the MBA was turned into a gatekeeping/filtering mechanism, to ensue only people with the right pedigree could be hired into roles “requiring” one.


Slightly off topic, but in the early 90's I had to help rewrite the resume of the Chinese friend of a Chinese friend and she was very proud of the fact he graduated from the number one university in China. He had very poor English writing skills so I just unmangled it, did not have difficulty conversing with him, but I was not aware of the admissions difficulty being so high there compared to the Stanford/elite US universities as the writer says, this was about the time the WWW came online so was not so easy to google the answers back then.


> I was not aware of the admissions difficulty being so high there compared to the Stanford/elite US universities

China has a population of 1.4 billion. Peking University has 33k students and Tsinghua has 45k.

Obviously this isn't a great comparison because lots of foreigners come to study in the US, but I think it does give a sense of scale.


us has a population of about 300 million and Harvard has a student body of size 6,700. looks almost exactly proportional


When he asked himself if British people were just way stupider than Chinese, it made me realize that whatever the Chinese education system is measuring is probably way off base compared to actual aptitude or practical ability. Just because it's highly selective doesn't mean their education is relevant.


Well in his case it brought him jobs around $500k. I would say that's something.


It seems to me that author's point is that he was considered a failure in the Chinese system. He gained the 1/2 million dollar compensation based on his success in the UK & US systems.


Because the system is full of people who talk about their passion, emotions and slogans instead of working hard and getting to the point, which he learned back at home.

Why should an article criticise just one side, right?


I always wonder what the average and median proficiency level of the applicants is, when looking at admissions rates.

In the US and europe, I always felt like people were more self selective than in Asia (India is the place I’m familiar with), meaning that more young people would not apply to top schools because they convince themselves (rightfully or not) that they’ll never get in. (Application fees are obviously inportant to consider: 100$ in the US vs free or very cheap (comparatively) in asia)

In India, I met lots of people applying to an unreasonable amount of jobs and colleges, because demand is so small compared to supply.

This means that admissions rates are likely skewed between different countries. Based on my anecdotical evidence, I’d say the average Harvard applicant is more skilled than the average IIT applicant, though the admitted students are probably as skilled.

EDIT: spelling


1. People who believe they can affect their own future and have control over there circumstances tend to have higher self-esteem and happiness. That tells you at least something about what you might _want_ to believe.

2. Montesquieu had a theory that people in history rode the wave of what was happening at the time, so Napoleon would not have become Napoleon if he was born in a different time, _but_ if Napoleon had not take control, someone else would have, since circumstances were ripe. Therefore, a person who knows how to read the events & choose a good strategy for the time in which they live will usually be at least moderately successful, and someone incapable of that will nearly always be mediocre. There are outliers and extremely fortunate or unfortunate events, but part of strategy is not becoming a negative outlier and optimizing for higher success. You may miss a specific opportunity, but if you are always looking for opportunity, you will find one of the ones that come along.


Its an interesting piece and some of the responses here seem uncharitable even defensive, as if he has questioned sacred gods.

It's not individuals reacting but jingoism, our generation was brought up on the idea of globalism and humanism, that we can connect as individuals. But as one gets older it seems jingoism is as alive as ever, only concealed better, where some things are taken for granted and not to be questioned while pointing fingers at others, judging others and making negative assumptions is perfectly ok.

Reluctance to introspect on your own society while cheering on those who criticize their own is a losing game.


> One class was about strategy. It focused on how corporate mottos and logos could inspire employees.

Probably not intended as such, but I'll take it as a hilarious send up of "strategy" and will recall it whenever I witness "strategy" being used vacuously.


I think he meant it. His English is very fluent throughout the article.


As a non-native speaker I say that there is a huge difference between speaking/writing fluent English and doing this in a way that satisfies "unwritten cultural conventions".

For my English, for example, native speakers tend to say that it is actually quite correct, but I have a tendency to use words in a specific way in which few native speaker would use them.


I am a non-native english speaker too; I guess I bristle at the the reading that this man isn't in control of his english when he writes with obvious proficiency, a reading I suspect, would not at all be in question were his name John Foster Edwards, or Henry Wickham or whatever Anglo-Saxon name you wish to replace his name with.

I see your point though. I think he does use words in ways that native speakers do not use, but in his anecdotes -- I think he's actually playing up his Chineseness for the comic effect, and he's very much aware of what's happening.


> So I bought a heart rate monitor and checked my resting heart rate. Right around 78. And when the professor said to me in class “Puzhong, I can see that story brought up some emotions in you,” I rolled up my sleeve and checked my heart rate. It was about 77. And so I said, “nope, no emotion.” The experiment seemed to confirm my prior belief: my heart rate hardly moved, even when I was criticized, though it did jump when I became excited or laughed.

Yikes.

> In Communist China, I was taught that hard work would bring success. In the land of the American dream, I learned that success comes through good luck, the right slogans, and monitoring your own—and others’—emotions.

I don't understand the value of this analogy. In Communist China, I was taught (something that is done to you) something false, but in the U.S. I learned (note: not taught, learned) something X.

Is it true or false? Because it matters whether or not something is true or false. I'm sure the author thinks what he is writing is true, otherwise, why write it? But he just directly compared something he decided on his own to something he was taught to be true that was actually false. This is really murky, and I don't care enough about his feelings about Cambridge or Stanford or Costco to try to make any more sense of it.


It's not an analogy, it's a juxtaposition. He agrees with Rubin, and has told anecdotes that support that position. You just don't want to believe his conclusion, and Rubin's. That's your right, but to say that he has no position, that it's all murky and there is no conclusion; therefore you can reject his conclusion, is literally absurd.


Basically, the author questions the American Dream.

"Hard work brings success" is paraphrasing the American Dream.

The author now says he learned that success does not depend on factors that can be controlled. He uses the verb learned in contrast to taught to emphasize that he thinks this is true.


Also worth noting that the author appears to have spent a long time learning the intricacies of how "business" and investment banking work, but seems to throw around the words "Capitalism" and "Communism" without any sort of acknowledgement that they don't really describe at all what goes on in the west or was going on in China when he was growing up.


Well from the beginning, the author only claims to offer "my candid observations" and not verifiable statements that are true or false. In fact, the whole article is clouded with ambiguity, probably because he doesn't want to come off as arrogant even though he secretly is, so he dials back on definite judgments.

I saw it as more of an expression of irony, that it was unexpected to learn the ideals of the "American Dream" in communist China, and essentially unlearn them while actually living in America. The whole "learned" rather than "taught" was the way he arrived independently at his personal beliefs contrary to what he was forced to learn in school or college.


> UK’s university system is considered superior to China’s,..., about one in ten applicants gets into Oxbridge in the UK, ...,but in Hebei province in China, where I am from, only one in fifteen hundred applicants gets into Peking or Qinghua University

"western universities" aren't only for "the best and brightest" but also for those who can afford it, this narrowly reduces the number of applicants.


I’m only part way through this so far, but it seems like you think in terms of absolutes -> either the world is entirely random, or it is entirely causal. Why can it not be a mix of both, of coincidence and causal relationships, some of which are intentionally planned.


I'm curious for other immigrants with kids, how difficult is it to break from the more deterministic "study hardest for success" vs relaxing a bit to optimize for happiness and embracing the impact of luck.


"... break from the more deterministic "study hardest for success" vs relaxing a bit to optimize for happiness and embracing the impact of luck."

Ahh, yes - the third generation ...

"We are an immigrant nation. The first generation works their fingers to the bone making things; the next generation goes to college and innovates new ideas. The third generation snowboards and takes improv classes."[1]

[1] http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2012-10-11/business/ct-bi...


The fourth generation lives from the third and two well, the fifth generation again works their fingers to the bone making things.


...unless all the factories are already overseas.


Totally OT, but strangely, 30 Rock appears to be getting better every time I re-watch it. Most other shows tend to get on my nerves after a few times, but 30 Rock just keeps getting more enjoyable.


> My parents by then had reached the conclusion that I was not going anywhere promising in China and were ready to send me abroad for high school.

Maybe the title should be "The Western Elite from a Chinese Elite Perspective". Surely sending kids to school to UK as plan B is not in the average Chinese family's abilities. Doesn't mean we should discount the article or its ideas but it's useful to keep the author's background in mind.


That change would be a good start. I enjoyed the article very much, but not at all because I thought it gave a balanced "Chinese perspective" on the Western elite. It read it as a story about a smart Chinese guy who was very focused on success in a narrow career track offering reflections about his awareness of limited experience. The part about the heart rate monitoring of his feelings serves as a good example... this is not a "Chinese" thing to do or even an elite Chinese thing. This guy is different ️.


Also relevant is that fact that the article contains that statement, "I am the child of modest workers".


> Yet I had to do it every day. At the end-of-year exam, I scored second from the bottom of the class—the same place where I began in first grade. But this time it was much harder to accept, after the glory I had enjoyed just one year earlier and the huge amount of effort I had put into studying this year. Finally, I threw in the towel, and asked my parents to send me abroad. Anywhere else on this earth would surely be better.

Given his academic performance in his high school, it's unlikely he got a scholarship to a leading UK private high school (Hurtwood House checking his Linkedin). Parents who can afford to send their kid to an overseas high school that charges $40k/year are not modest by Developed country standards, much less Chinese, and even less so Hebeinese.


He doesn't say his parents were poor or blue-collar workers, he compares himself to a child of aristocrat. Context is everything.

> He was a child of aristocrats; I am the child of modest workers.

When a one-digit millionaire compares himself to a billionaire like Bill Gates, using "modest" to describe one's wealth would be appropriate in this context.


Child of “modest workers” in a communist country can have different meaning. Maybe they’re party elites? We don’t know. Something just doesn’t add up though.


In another article he writes: "In China, where I was born, there are a lot of people who work much harder but could not enjoy similar results. The difference is that I was lucky enough to have had the chance to move abroad at a young age, thanks my parents. In other words, as Warren Buffett said, a large part of life is the lottery at birth."

http://www.economist.com/whichmba/mba-diary-standing-oration


He's using the word "modest" to mean "not particularly prestigious" as opposed to "poor".


Wonder if Hurtwood House knew the truth that he was second from the bottom or do they just take in anybody with money.


Why would they turn someone away with a pile of money?


I wouldn't blame the author for this. I have a similar background in many ways. It took me a long time and a good deal of luck to realize that I am not the child of modest workers.


That's true certainly in my teens I wouldn't have thought that though I do come from a middle class back ground as would those went to public school instead of a comprehensive.

I suppose it started to dawn on me when mum commented that if we had stayed in Birmingham they would have used my Grandfather (a headmaster) to try and pull strings to get me into Kings Edwards, BTW this is "the" King Edwards (JRR Tolkien's alma mata) that takes turn with the Oratory for the top school in the country.


I agree, these judgements can only ever be made relative to one's own perspective. It's important not to take at face value someone else's notion of "modest worker", and even more important not to take your own notion at face value either.


I think the upper class/elite in China are pretty isolated from the rest of the people, and really don't realize how bad a lot of their countrymen have it.

A good friend of mine is from Chengdu and for most of his life he thought he was just average - a guy whose parents sent him to the US for high school, pay ~30,000CAD/semester in tuition, bought him an X3 for his first car, etc.


Not to mention that china probably has internal differences than any other places.

The biggest expensive cities are in league with NYC/SF/London, but there is still a large countryside that is "modest" and vast unpopulated area with noone or villages that are decades behind.


But were they Party members. And if yes, how high up?


I agree with your statement, but if you turn around that logic, it is meaningless. Will you read about a blue collar worker's view on Chinese society? Probably not, since they are unlikely to have experienced it. Only Western elites will have been likely to experience Chinese society. Obviously someone who will be published in a magazine is elite. I am willing to wager than all the other writers are 'elites' in some way. As societies, we don't really want to read about some Cantonese kid working after school at his parents restaurant for 6 hours a day. We want to see success! That is why we tunnel so heavily on Cambridge, Stanford, and Goldman Sachs. Do you really think he would have been given a voice on this magazine if he was not affiliated with those institutions?


> We want to see success!

We do, but this success is presented as if coming from an average Chinese experience. But it's very much not so. A lot of success to him came not just from pure hard work but because his family could afford to have "plan B" of sending him abroad.

Like someone here on HN said it, it is not that the elites don't fail, they do, but after each failure they can just keep trying until they succeed.

> Will you read about a blue collar worker's view on Chinese society?

I would love to actually. What would an American welder think about China or, maybe what they would think about how Chinese welders work and vice-versa.

> As societies, we don't really want to read about some Cantonese kid working after school at his parents restaurant for 6 hours a day.

No, but they would love to read about the Cantonese kid working after school and then based on his hard work end up at GS.

The bottom line is growing in up in a family like it doesn't matter what country or culture you come from you already won the lottery. You can live in Venezuela or Africa and still take weekend flight to shop in New York. Your perspective is already very different.


I am the child of modest workers (my dad didn’t even have a bachelor degree) and have even experienced bankruptcy as a pre teen. I’m definitely not a western elite by background, but was able to experience Chinese society. Heck, there is a whole stereotype, not completely unjustified, of western losers coming to China to make a long term living as rockstar English teachers.


There used to be a British acronym FILTH Failed in London, Try Hong Kong :-)


I am using a throwaway for obvious reasons. But having been to both HK and Shanghai, I can say there is a world of difference between Westerners in both cities. The ones in HK working in finance at least have a college degree. They know how to behave in a proper surrounding. The ones I met in Shanghai are almost all trailer trash that have nowhere else to go. The filth coming out their mouths is astounding. You can see why a lot of Chinese people don't like them: egotistical and cynical. They also have chip on their shoulders. That's when you know how a person is brought up truly matters.


Most of the foreigners I knew in Beijing had PhDs like myself, some just had master degrees. But then I was working in a research lab. I heard of the English teachers but never met them before.

The thing about foreigners in mainland China vs. Hong Kong, there just aren’t that many at all. Maybe shanghai has the most, but even then it is less than 100k, a drop in the bucket compared to Hong Kong, Singapore, Tokyo, or even Bangkok.


"Most of the foreigners I knew in Beijing had PhDs". Speaking of research, you are illustrating self-selection bias and small sample size fallacy in your argument. A small group of friends do not represent the whole. You shoudn't downvote people just because their opinion differs from yours.


Of course it was, but then again there are so few foreigners in Beijing that small sample size bias is inevitable.

Also, haven’t downvotes anyone on this thread.


Seems like you are choosing to downvote people that do not agree with you. I prefer to argue with logic and not downvotes. Its very unfortunate. Good day, Mr. Mcdirmid.


The software of HN forbid to downvote the replies to a comment that a user has made, so seanmcdirmid was not able to downvote you. Someone else had to downvoted your comments.

[In case you are wondering, I didn't downvote you neither.]

[Also, complains about downvotes and accusations of downvotes are good methods to get more downvotes. See https://news.ycombinator.com/newsguidelines.html ]


I didn’t downvote anyone.


Heard this a lot in investment banking. Definitely "used to be" as these days you're unlikely to make it in Hong Kong either.


The friends I know who tried to get into either say it's as hard to join HK as London. They are both super competitive.


Well, they could try Shanghai.


The main offices are usually in NYC, London, Tokyo, Hong Kong, Singapore. I don't think that Shanghai is an option.


There is some investment and finance going on in shanghai these days. It isn’t world-class, but everyone wants to be there to learn and look to the future. Kind of like how HK and Singapore were 40-50 years ago.


I thought this BBC article about present day "blue collar" Chinese experience rang true. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/resources/idt-dd0e6fd5-12fc-4a4a-a...


From what I hear its now plan A to send your kids to British public and American private Schools as well as for the Russian elites.

Its what I have been told happens in my home towns Public schools - one of Barack Obamas roomies at Harvard came from one of them.

As suggested a in the UK Public School is what an American would call a private one ie one where rich people send there kids


If you are from the UK, you should probably clarify what you mean by a "Public school" since a reader from the US probably interprets that differently than what you mean.


Well its simple. I, personally went to two public schools, both of which were in the private school sector.

No, it isn't obvious. In the UK the prefix public and private are both synonymous for "fee paying" for schools.

I went to a prep. school (9 to 13) and a public school (13+) after that. Both of which would be described as private schools.


Yup. A huge number of rich foreigners send their children to UK fee paying schools. Lots of Middle-Eastern, Russian and Chinese. Something like 15% of current world leaders were educated in the UK.

Certainly caused some mumblings about the general character of some of the most prestigious institutions like Eton. It would be easy to put that simply down to xenophobia but there is a relative difference between the established culture and the new. British aristocratic elites are generally (and of course this is all relative) far poorer than the children of Oligarchs and party officials. Generally the attitude of the aristocratic Brits is to keep their head down and not be flashy, whereas some of their classmates literally have a private jet for their use on weekends.


Yes - the big surprise of the sudden high score in the high school test made me smile as well.


Probably better titled “Life is a random walk”. I completely agree with his premise - ‘success’ in life, however defined, seems largely a function largely of luck. Those who see the world for what it is - rather than what received dogma teaches - understand this truth.


I study testing of the sort he focuses on, and is at the core of a system he points out is more similar across Chinese and Western societies than people think.

What I've come to realize is that everything he wrestles with in the essay is not hidden away, it's right there within the testing system. It's studied empirically, the markets are there, it's all in plain view. It doesn't require any special wisdom or insight and anyone trying to simplify things either way are wrong.

These tests that are scrutinized bear only a modest relationship with what they are trying to measure, and what they are trying to measure is only weakly related to what people want to know. That is, the best estimates suggest that they're only correlated about .30 or .40 with actual ability or understanding in any deeper sense at most. And this is over the entire range of ability, meaning that it includes comparisons between people who score in the 2nd percentile and those who score in the 98th percentile -- a huge portion of that correlation is surely due to gross comparisons of that sort.

What's sobering to me is that we know this. We know these tests are not only imperfect, but severely so. And yet we fetishize it. The money being put into the testing field is astounding.

The reason of course, is because, while these tests are poor measures, they're the better than nothing. And we know that they tell us something about people, on average, across many people.

I'm not sure why we overrely on these things, why these discussions are often framed in extremes, where either a test is the criterion for success, or react to it with claims that the tests are completely invalid.


Flip it:

Failure of the meritorious is due to bad-luck and/or circumstance.


> Eventually I was able to meet the chief financial officer of my favorite company, Costco. He told me that they don’t hire any MBAs. Everyone starts by pushing trolleys.

The CFO went to university himself. What an ass...


It's rather poetic that the author who was marinated in the cold-hard "we know best" culture of Communism, then in its self-congratulatory more stochastic variant of occidental capitalism, to come back to what was once the core wisdom of the orient, yet not appreciate it.

Pity that while the Europeans destroyed the traditions of much of Asia's (incl., sadly, much of India's), that the Chinese themselves destroyed a large part of their own heritage.


"Rather, the increase in inflation was due to things like tax increases, exchange rate fluctuations, oil price moves, etc."

It seems to me that tax cutting could lead to increased consumption and therefore a reduction in GDP slack and upward pressure on prices (inflation). Why is it that tax increases would lead to inflation?


It depends on what the tax increase or tax decrease affect. If a tax cut goes predominantly to those who invest in greater productivity, then increased supply can drop prices - but only if that investment is more efficient than consequently relinquished government investment. These things are horribly difficult to measure. Perhaps Ukrainian defense spending is a total waste, and should cease with a corresponding tax cut. Perhaps it is preventing a transfer of common wealth to an oligarch, and is the most important investment the country makes. I'm quite sure I don't know.


An increase in sales tax or more likely VAT in the UK will immediately show up in prices as inflation. You may be thinking of income tax which may indeed have a different effect depending on the circumstances.


Either way, we can all sleep at night. Goldman Sachs made money...


>I had the second-worst grades in the class and had to sit at a desk perpendicular to the blackboard so that the teacher could keep a close eye on me

Maybe he had the second-worst grades from not knowing the meaning of "perpendicular" even though he studied math


Success or failure - these are the wrong perspectives. Happiness, fulfilment and experience; when you're on your death bed you'll not think back warmly to all the money you made, or the great job titles you held.


"I told him about the black swan I kept on my desk as a reminder that low probability events happen with high frequency"

Uh... wouldn't low probability events happen with low frequency? Am I missing something?



Could someone explain the point of this article? All I'm getting are:

* Everything is random.

* A generic Chinese man, who did really well on one test is smarter than most people in Britain.

* Americans, who are capitalists, don't seem to want to focus their lives on the supposed end goal of capitalism.

* MBA programs are nuts, especially if you are on the spectrum.

I'm probably wrong about most of those, but like the author, I just don't see the coherent picture.


my takeaway: the western stereotype of chinese education is that there is herd mentality and groupthink, but the same thing exists on the western side, just with a different herd.

edit: this is highlighted by the conclusion, in which he points out the irony of the lesson from his western education (everything is luck) when the traditional message is "if you work hard you will succeed".

i thought it was a great read.


The sly sense of humor helped the presentation. Whatever his other qualities the author is a good writer, in a second language no less.


He reminded me of the "The Good Soldier Švejk" stories, especially the MBA part, the one with the professors telling him he can see that the author was feeling stuff, the brand thing and the part where he just told them that he wants to earn money (i.e. he was as honest as soldier Švejk was).


Isn't the obvious conclusion that opportunity is a necessary prerequisite to success? In a communist or puritan philosophy that would mean it's lucky to be working, whereas the juxtaposition is virtually the same, working to be lucky. I don't see how the question for chicken-and-egg-priority matters here.


I definitely think it was intended that way. From the beginning, the language seemed loaded with judgmental terms and obsessed with status. So the article seemed purposefully not to resolve itself, most likely because the natural conclusion according to the article's tone and content would probably be some asinine assertion like China > USA, Americans/British/people from Western society are silly/irrational/incompetent, communism > democracy, etc. of course all while being blissfully unaware of ones (and ones culture's) own biases, shortcomings, and contradictions. So really the article lacks a point so it won't make a crude/distasteful one. Like a polite person who gives a vague noncommittal answer in a group instead of a patronizing one.


> the natural conclusion according to the article's tone and content would probably be some asinine assertion like China > USA, Americans/British/people from Western society are silly/irrational/incompetent, communism > democracy, etc.

i agree that the article was underdeveloped, but im not sure your critique is entirely fair. the author did go on for a while about that girl, nian, and how inhospitable china was to someone very similar to him. he also hints at how warped the party's version of chinese history is. i think its far from clear that the author thinks china is superior to the west, or vice versa.


* luck has more to do with results than we think

* "focus on the process, which we can control, rather than the result"

This is also well explained by Scott Adams: "Goals are for losers... try systems that improve your odds of success."


He more so explained his story, which was essentially: “I studied hard, got into a good school, and got a great job,” rather than explaining how he focuses on the process. The only example of “process” was his discovery during his internship that he _should_ focus on process.


But the story you're describing isn't accurate. His story is more like "I studied hard, did not do well, as a result my parents sent me to a good school in a different country, and got a great job".

If he had done better than he did in his Chinese High School, his parents may not have sent him to the UK, in which case he may not have been as successful. So it still aligns with the idea of the story that we really discount the value of luck in our successes.


But he learned to focus on the process at GS, where he was rewarded when the process failed in his favor.


Adams is a fool whose primary accomplishment is badly drawing a comic which is occasionally mildly funny I cannot imagine reading an entire book by him.


Western capitalism strongly believes in meritocracy and that each of us can architect our own destiny. In reality, that's not the case and we can be affected by luck, historical forces, or force majeure. Our best laid plans may not turn out as we had hoped or we may experience the equivalent of winning the lottery for no reason other than being in the right place/right time.

As I read it, his conclusion in the end is that accepting this nebulosity is possibly the key to happiness.


That's far better than what I managed to extract. I only got the first two points, after which it all became a meaningless word salad (plus, he read a book that impressed him). I was about to post a WTF-type comment, but then I found yours.

I also couldn't ignore the headline referring to the "West" (whatever it is) in general, while the author only had some limited experience working in the US and studying in the UK.

I live in Singapore now, and one thing that made me laugh once was an establishment called "Johnson's Western food". Like, that tiny stall encompasses the entire culinary wisdom of France, Italy, Spain, Germany, and more. In reality, they sell soggy pizza and pasta sourced from Mars (at least by the looks of it).

This article is the literary equivalent of the Johnson's Western food stall, although with better pictures.


Now you know how Chinese people feel when they read any articles written by white men about China, or when they go eat at one of those asian fusion abominations :)


I know, but they sorta kinda miss the irony when they reference racial origin and "West" instead of referring to an individual.


How about Western people are super lucky to be born in a luxurious environment that most other people compete against each other to achieve as well, that you really need to work your ass off to achieve, and sometimes even despite working hard won't succeed at achieving.


I came to the comments expecting to be upset by people not finding this essay deeply disturbing and I'm glad I was at least a bit wrong :)


Looks like the author also arrived at a similar conclusion:

“It's not about the cards you're dealt, but how you play the hand.”


It seems to me like the author arrived at nearly the exact opposite conclusion: "I learned that success comes through good luck, the right slogans, and monitoring your own—and others’—emotions."


His connclusion mirror's the central tenant of bhagavad gita. "Karmanye vadika raste ma phalechu kadachana". Do your duty as best as you can , without expectation of results


I think there's a logical contradiction. Without expected return value, how could one measure how good "as best as" could be? The only resolve I can think of is to try to adjust to a blacklist instead, maybe don't expect results, but at least know when you have failed. To me, this is the same thing expressed in inverse logic.

What's the negative of "expectation of results", ie. the normalization of the expression "no (expectation of results)" in constructive terms. I guess it would have to be perhaps expect failure


The word "duty" is a clue here, and the word "result" is misunderstood. It is asking you to do what must be done, but to be modest in what you expect as return.

It is rather close to the definition of integrity: To do the right thing, even when nobody's looking.


And Orel Hershiser's book on pitching, a bit later.


This story immediately reminded me of Scott Adams. He spent some time working on financial models before writing Dilbert. If you can stomach polarizing political viewpoints from a cartoonist, I would highly recommend reading his non-Dilbert books and giving his blog a thorough reading. His reflections on life touch on the role of luck, the limitations of prediction models, and framing worldviews from multiple perspectives as a way to narrow down on success, influence, and the very meaning of life.


This is the second time someone suggests him. But there is a lot to read. Can you make suggestion for a place to start? Like what's your favorite article? How did it change your view on the world?


I can't help but think that the conclusion being "whatever happens happens, and your actions have very little to do with what your life's going to be" is a very zen / taoism / asian philosophy cliché.

Maybe the reason the west is successful lies in the belief that individuals matters. If that's the case, then i suppose the OP still has a long way to go.


Maybe there's a balance to be struck between the two ideologies: that seemingly insignificant individual actions can have profound effects, while also accepting the fact that there are infinite environmental variables that we have negligible control over which influence every single one of those actions.


i don't think you need to "accept" the fact that there are infinite variables, or that you're not all-that-powerful. It's pretty much a given, and it's something you realise at 2 year old, when you really want to play with that ball, or lift that rock, or pretty much anything grown up do, but you can't. And as you're growing up, nature is always there to remind you that you're nothing.

IMHO, the role of education in the most general sense (encompassing the cultural background you're evolving in) is to help you think that you need to keep trying to make a difference, and not give up, because maybe one time in your life you'll accomplish something, and that'll be worth it.


>you realise at 2 year old, when you really want to play with that ball, or lift that rock, or pretty much anything grown up do

Most two year olds can't form complex sentences, and so have yet to be indoctrinated into their culture's ideologies. It seems like the context of this whole thread is moreso about economic ideology than basic physics.


But maybe not, and probably not.


All patterns are post rationalizations.


I'm not exactly sure what the point of the article is or what the author is trying to say. It's pretty much an abbreviated biography bookended by some attempts at philosophizing. It is interesting to hear how much easier the author found his British curriculum than his Chinese. I was also amused by how he mocked his Stanford MBA curriculum, and how the career office people were dismissive of his passion to make money.

Smart hard working people succeed much more often than they don't. Born into difficult circumstances, their probability of 'success' (accumulating prestige and wealth) is much higher than for others.

Of course sometimes circumstances are too oppressive to overcome, and sometimes the stupid and lazy are elevated in spite of themselves... But these are exceptions.


"Smart hard working people succeed much more often than they don't."

A smart hard working person today might be a hard working computer scientist.

Their skills would be absolutely worthless even a few centuries ago. Their skills would be absolutely worthless even today depending on where they are born and to the parents they are born.

I'm not convinced "smart and hard working" are not post hoc descriptors themselves.


Plus, that sentiment is only true with a narrow set of upper middle class, white collar assumptions. What about hard working retail workers or factory workers? Or look how vast the race and gender disparities are...


Maybe they don't want to be anything other than retail or factory workers?

Many people don't have ambition, or they have limited ambition.


maybe they don't want to be anything other than factory workers. That doesn't mean that they are fundamentally less valuable and less worthy of being paid their fair share.


What's their fair share? You think you're worthy to determine that?


>>> Smart hard working people succeed much more often than they don't

It sounds to me you're classifying people as smart/hard working only if they're successful.


That's not what I'm saying at all


To be born with the genetics to be smart and hardworking is out of our control. So smart and hardworking can be considered circumstances we are born into as well.


Agreed. And I'll go one further: there is no free will. But the point holds


I mostly agree with this sentiment (though I grant that there may be other, more nuanced views with which I might also agree) and find its implication a little startling: that one's life is really "One's Life: The Movie".


"Have I gotten smarter? Or is it just that British people are stupider than the Chinese?"

Wow, false dichotomy and either racism or ego, take your pick.

Hard to keep reading after that.


> "In Communism, the future is certain; it is only the past that might not be"

A fine essay, the above quote gave me a chuckle.


I'm not so sure what is meant by it. Adherents of Marxism-Leninism utilise the method of dialectical materialism to analyse the past and to provide a model for the structure of the future based on the resolution of dialectical contradictions. The contradictions of feudalism led to capitalism, and the contradictions of capitalism (the value-form in particular, class antagonism) lead to Communism.


It is simple. In the future the Communism will be built, and all the people will be happy. It is absolutely certain. Every current event proves this statement, if you think otherwise, you should educate youself better by consuming mass media.

But the past is not so certain, because the past is under control of the government, and the past undego changes sometimes. The past has its blank spots, there are some unmentionable events in the past that do not make communists proud. So no one really knows what happened.

If you are interested, you might want to read Orwell's 1984, he described extreme case of such a world view.


Communism is not a 'utopia' in the sense that everyone is happy all the time. It aims simply to do away with certain problems, just as public health services don't do away with every problem in your life. Your insinuation that I or any other Communist thinks this way is a strange one, though not unheard of.

>you should educate youself better by consuming mass media.

Is this not precisely the opposite of mass media? Marxist social critic Herbert Marcuse wrote about how, beacuse Communism is a subversive movement, and indeed the Left, it cannot gain mass media time, because of its nature as subversive; it can only be snuck in under capitalism, as capitalism is willing to accept any ideology for the sake of profit. I would recommend One-Dimensional Man on the topic of what problems Communists have with late capitalist media and production, and the hiding of information.

>If you are interested, you might want to read Orwell's 1984

I have; although it's a little funny to see Orwell used to rebut the Communist project, seeing as he was a Socialist himself who fought on the side of anarchists in Spain, there's a deeper point here that you are missing. Orwell wrote about very obvious misdirection - "war is peace", "peace is war". However, you are missing the fact that it is not this easy to see.

Nowadays, as I am sure you know, the contradiction and control is hidden not in the sentence but within the noun. In words such as "freedom", "democracy", "control", etc. the actual meaning can be discerned only by the speaker of the word and the historical time period. Please read Marcuse on this topic. I don't know where you're getting the idea that I'm in favour of rewriting the past from.


> Is this not precisely the opposite of mass media?

Under all existing or existed communist government mass media brings The Truth, the government's interpretation of events. If you live here you should know this interpretation, or you risk to show political illiteracy and to be critisized for that. It can damage your career, or you will be forced to attend to courses of political literacy, or both. I believe it didn't work for blue collars, they had more freedom in this sense, but for white collar political illiteracy was a real threat. It was like now in USA with microagression of white males (as I see it from other side of ocean): if you catched on some sort aggression at female, you could be fired and get a "wolf ticket" (in short, it is markings in papers that does not allow to find white collar job), or attend to some sort of training, bring public apoligies, and so on.

> Nowadays, as I am sure you know, the contradiction and control is hidden not in the sentence...

Are you trying to persuade me that USSR was not as bad as it seems from USA? I know that. And USA is not as bad as it seemed from USSR. But I have no intentions to discuss it here. It is a contraversial topic, and it is like swamp: you step there and cannot get out of it. Moreover I see no point in discussing: there is no USSR now. Was it bad, or not so bad -- it does not matter now.

> I don't know where you're getting the idea that I'm in favour of rewriting the past from.

Not you, but all communist states I know about.


I agree, however the Communist form is merely a re-telling of the capitalist form, it results from the same contradictions, the same process, and has the same result. Under the states of the past the control is unhidden and in fact presented unashamed by the powers that be. In the present day, the infiltration of the new rationality pervades not only media but all experience within modern society. When you hear Bach in the supermarket or watch the news or go to the voting booth, it is exactly the same domination, but in different forms.

This is why both the USA currently and the USSR formerly deserve the same criticism, and we need to move beyond this rationality of unfreedom, and the answer to this I belive lies firmly within the realm of revolutionary Communist movements, but only after realising exactly what inspired the controlling rationalities of the US and the USSR.

The US (as it continues) and USSR both institute(d) a policy in which the only freedom is that which you are told you are supposed to have, and that any freedom which transcends is called either "Socialist" or "capitalist". These are projected as 'bad' because they appear within their respective societies to reach 'the limits of reason itself'. To the American taken in by his 'freedom', Socialism is not only unreasonable, irrational or unjustifiable but it is impossible itself, because to him what is rational is production, the pervasiveness of technology and relentless consumption. Similar things can be said about the USSR and its descendant Marxist-Leninist states.

Within the USSR, there was no qualitative change, there was only quantitative change, and indeed due to their rationality, Socialism could only be seen as quantitative change, a sliding axis between capitalism and Socialism. This is because they were fixed by controlling rationality in which Communism has become quantitative, obscuring the fact that it is truly qualitative, Marx said as much all along: Communism is the rejection of all established notions, Communism abolishes all notions of morality, justice, freedom and indeed stands in opposition, contradiction to all previous societies.


'ordu answered as a person who has lived under communism. By "mass media" 'ordu meant "pravda". 'ordu is 100% correct about the communism as it was practiced in the 20th century. You are a theoretical marxist who has never seen what communism is like in practice. You would just say about every attempt to build communism that failed (which is all of them) that it was not real communism.


> But the past is not so certain, because the past is under control of the government, and the past undego changes sometimes. The past has its blank spots, there are some unmentionable events in the past that do not make communists proud. So no one really knows what happened.

Communists don't have anything resembling a monopoly on this.


When the author describes "communism" or "capitalism" he appears to be writing about his experience with them as he has seem them actually practiced, rather than the theory of how they are supposed to work according to their adherents.


Upon second reading, that makes more sense, however it would be clearer if this were the case. "Chinese Communism" can refer either to the ideology which the CCP claim to adhere themselves to, or it can refer to the actual state-capitalist bureaucracy as practiced in China.


It could definitely be clearer. But the more you have to explain a joke the less funny it is.


He’s talking about actual communist political systems, not theoretical communism. Look at how China censored mention of tienanmen square, or how Stalin disappeared people from books and photographs.



The most odd thing for me was the bit about how he didn't understand how 'long-term greedy' would not inspire most people.

Also - we should consider that the kinds of kids who grow up super talented, go to Goldman and top Schools etc. are probably not very representative of the Chinese population.


Interesting that in one section, he casts doubt on the notion that mathematical models can accurately describe reality, and in another, he uses a heart rate monitor to conclude that he doesn’t have emotions.


Two things - a.) the scientific hypothesis that heart rate is elevated via uncontrolled nervous system response in the human body is well accepted versus most economic hypothesis appearing to be post hoc explanations rather than theories that can actually predict the future as he clearly writes the second thing out when critiquing some things his professors said b.) the over stated diagnosis - maybe he's slightly psychopathic or so unfamiliar with Western centric interpersonal culture it doesn't affect him. :)


I thought it was brilliant. He "innocently" exposed the whole class as a hoax.


Id argue that rather than him exposing the class as a hoax, he exposed that his level of comfort with the course content was quite low. The class is about emotional intelligence, and he essentially admits he is lacking in this (not able to understand why his actions provoke certain responses in people).

I've taken a similar class, and the content can be quite uncomfortable (and sometimes the content strays into bs territory, but I and others find much of the content of value). A common reaction to this uncomfort is to deny the validity of the concept of emotions / EQ, but many people who try to understand these concepts do come out with a better understanding of how to engage emotionally

I know for many logic minded people the concept of emotional intelligence seems like bs, but it is real (sorry for asserting this rather than providing evidence, but that's another topic). My brother is on the spectrum and I'm on the autistic side of normal, and it's my experience that EQ can be learned and that learning it valuable and worthwhile personally and professionally


Are you really so sure? It’s not an easy thing to maintain awareness of the workings of one’s emotions, especially for someone raised in a repressive, collectivist culture that doesn’t value the internal life of the individual, and especially if that individual is on the spectrum, in which case the emotions are “buried” even deeper.


If his emotions are buried so deep, that there no way to see real world consequences of them, than maybe it is better to say, that there are no emotions?

I think, that mottos in Western culture are just pathetic ones. Western culture knows nothing about how to raise steady emotions in people. I was born in USSR, and I saw how it should be done. But there is one consequence: with experience comes tolerance to external attempts to raise my emotions by some lovely motto. Now it is really hard to. "All people deserve to live healthy lives" -- what is it? I was grown on ideas of Worldwide Communist Revolution and bringing freedom from damned capitalists to all people? I read books, I watched films, discussed this in a classes, I learnt world history in terms of societies struggling to make one more step toward communism. And after that I hear motto for preschool kids. The topic for boring school essay about role of Communism in bringing healthy life to everyone. I had eaten tons of this shit before I came to a school. I have eaten even more in school. Why I should have any emotions now?

Really, I can hardly believe that any adult can be touched by such a motto. I'm unable to understand it, even when I try to imagine how it could be, if I was not born under ideologic pressure.

The Black Swan can be a good motto, because it is a symbol of some non-trivial idea, because it reminds me something that I can forget to think through one more time. It reminds me about ideas which I want to think through again and again. But "healty lives for everyone" is something like communism, it will not be like that in the overseeable future. It is just one more ideologic lie, which is must be spoken due to some social protocol. Pointless tradition.


I've never heard a good case that emotions exist. I'm a believer that we have both a sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system that are activated reflexively by the same types of stimulation that activate them in other animals; and as humans who deal with abstractions as physical metaphors, those abstractions stimulate our sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems by activating the same ancient reflexes.

As humans are rationalizers, they construct reasons for these nervous activations after the fact. If you inculcate them with simple slogans that become habitual, they will interpret themselves in terms of those slogans. It's a failure of introspection, or rather a rerouting of any rational introspection through a lens of theory-theory[1].

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Theory-theory


Are you arguing against dualism? What kind of existence could emotions have that is not "rooted" in the material biological world? Emotions are a useful concept that helps explain and predict human behaviour and makes human interactions more predictable/rational. If a person is sad at t0 i know that his answer to go to a party at t0+1 will be lower than if his emotional state was happy at t0. That you can describe emotions by biological processes is inconsequential. See also: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Concept_of_Mind


I've never heard someone say they've never heard a good case that emotions exist before. Would you mind elaborating? For me, I recognize emotione in myself that fit my understanding of the word "emotions", and that is sufficient for me to believe they exist

Many emotions have physiological "symptoms" and are associated with certain brain regions and pathways. Our understanding of biology does not permit us to define emotions to the level of physiological detail that we have for, say, inflammation, but that doesn't mean emotions don't exist


Good point.


You might like Minsky’s “The Emotion Machine.” Emotion is, as you say, essentially a higher order function of the nervous system—-some complex way of amplifying and dampening certain systems in order to adapt to circumstances. We understand emotion less clearly than we understand multilayer perceptrons/neural networks/basic learning and reasoning.

But even dogs seem to have emotions, don’t they? My dog gets excited if I offer him a treat, and sad if I don’t give it to him.


> Really, I can hardly believe that any adult can be touched by such a motto.

I grew up in the east block too and I come upon this quite often. The peak of it is the current political situation in the USA.

I wonder if this is connected with the pressure to be young and healthy for as long as possible or at least looking like it which allows you to participate in "young culture" whith everything that comes along with it (tech, speach, dress, views,...). The side effect is a infantile look at the world and concepts that are supposed to run it on all levels.

I work for an US company in Germany and see realities collide every day.


As opposed to work nine to five like a nice corporate drone retire and die within 2 years as was common a generation ago?


As opposed to work 8-7, be reachable 24/7 retire and die within 2 years as is common this generation?


er no the mortality statistics don't bear that out though maybe the NHS has something to do with that


I would still like to work 9-5...


what does "steady emotions in people" mean? are you suggesting that brainwashing / political indoctrination is a good thing


Nope, I don't mean that brainwashing is ethically good. Its just much more effective in totalitarian state.

If "steady emotions" is not clear, it may be due to my bad English. I used "steady" in the sense "persistent" and "strong". You say "communism" and people respond with strong emotions, mainly positive. I didn't tried to judge it ethically. Let's leave this for another discussion.


This topic seems to make you rather emotional.


I'm willing to give the author the benefit of the doubt, that he knows his own emotions. I simply assume that I know the inner workings of my own mind better than anybody else can. If somebody tells me that they have a magic window into my mind, I assume that they're trying to manipulate or bullshit me.

It's not just repressed Communists. I work with scientists and engineers, and they also roll their eyes at corporate slogans. In turn, the managers know this.


> I simply assume that I know the inner workings of my own mind better than anybody else can.

I think this is a very bad assumption; Eric Schwitzgebel has spent a lot of his career making the case that it is a bad assumption: http://www.faculty.ucr.edu/~eschwitz/

a good example paper: Knowing Your Own Beliefs (2011), http://www.faculty.ucr.edu/~eschwitz/SchwitzAbs/KnowOwnBel.h...


If an emotion is neither experienced nor physiologically detected, does it really exist?


Emotions come from the unconscious. Of course they can be difficult to detect. Nonetheless they can shape our thinking and behavior dramatically. Read Carl Jung, “The Undiscovered Self.”


I don't think our economic models are comparable in accuracy or reliability to a heart rate monitor.


I'm not sure that's the right comparison. A heart rate monitor is not a mathematical model of human emotion, it's just a measurement tool. And it's one that is no more accurate or reliable than the tools we use to measure the price of a trade.

Real world markets are much more complicated than economic models, just as human emotion is more complicated than the author's model of no change heart rate = no change in emotion.


Nor are heart rate monitors an accurate or reliable predictor of emotion


Well, one cannot not use models. Even if one explicitely avoids using models that avoidance in itself is a model.


he misses many points, including the meaning of the phrase "long-term greedy". It is not about "everyone else in the market was short-term greedy and, as a result, we took all their money. Since traders like money, this was inspiring.", but a philosophy of enlightened self-interest, which I suspect would resonate with the class and professor more. Yet he subtly uses this as an anecdote about how MBAs are dumb and the classes "herd mentality". What aarogance!


> In Communist China, I was taught that hard work would bring success. In the land of the American dream, I learned that success comes through good luck, the right slogans, and monitoring your own—and others’—emotions.

FTFY:

> In highschool, I was taught that hard work would bring success. In college, I learned that success comes through fooling people with good marketing.




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