Ranking the Division

The author delivering a recent lecture to international business and Chinese culture students at North Central College.

In my book, Understanding China, I proffer that a lot of the difference between Chinese culture and Western culture can be traced to the fact that Chinese culture is built on an intellectual foundation of inductive logic while Western culture is built on an intellectual foundation of deductive logic. The Scientific Method is a deductive methodology for decipering reality. Conjecture, on the other hand, which starts with an observation and speculates cause, is inductive.

And in a classic test of chicken and egg that I will leave to the theologians, it should be no surprise that the monotheistic religions of the West are all deductive in structure. The Eastern religions, by contrast, including Taoism, Buddhism, and Chinese folk religion, are more inductive. Taoists, for example, believe that the universe is simply too complex for the human mind to comprehend.

The deductive/inductive distinction, however, goes well beyond helping to explain the differences in Eastern and Western cultural norms. It further provides a conceptual framework for explaining the sheer intensity of the resentment and division that plagues Western societies today.

Just as science has shown the universe to be in a constant state of expansion, deduction is not a static worldview. It feeds on itself. As time passes the deductive worldview inevitably seeks to become even more deductive, setting the stage for an even stronger belief in the linear relationship of cause and effect that is at the heart of deduction.

Opinions, in other words, naturally get stronger and ultimately morph into something approaching either passion or hate. We don’t just disagree; we despise.

To the deductive thinker every relationship is both linear and measureable. One attribute of the deductively logical mind, therefore, is the desire to rank things. We incessantly rank our sports teams. We rank the best places to retire; the best public schools; the best cars, and the best travel destinations.

I was reminded of the extreme lengths we are willing to go to rank things when U.S. News and World Report, in partnership with Y&R’s BAV Consulting and The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, recently unveiled its 2017 ranking of 80 countries on 65 attributes.

The “best” country overall was Switzerland. With a population of only 8.3 million, which a relatively small portion of the world’s population has ever visited, I suspect, Switzerland scored well in the categories of “Citizenship” and “Open for Business,” but only reached #20 in the category “Adventure”, perhaps because it scored relatively low in “Sexy.” Brazil, which ranked #28 overall, ranked #1 in “Adventure” on the back of strong rankings for “Fun” and “Sexy.”

Understanding China is available at Amazon in paper and electronic formats.

The United States ranked #7 overall – after Switzerland, Canada, United Kingdom, Germany, Japan, and Sweden – with a #1 ranking for “Power”. It scored only #35, however, in both “Adventure” and “Open for Business,” the former probably because of a paltry score of only 0.6 for “Sexy.”

China ranked #20 overall despite top-5 rankings in “Power” (#3) and “Movers” (#4). It ranked #59 in “Adventure,” however, with only a 1.3 score for “Fun”.

And who determines what is “Sexy” and what is “Fun?” Well, there’s the telling catch. The ranking is based on the perceptions of 21,372 online survey participants, all of whom hail from only 36 of the 80 countries ranked. More than half of the respondents were classified by the survey’s authors as “informed elites.”

What I deduce from all of this is that this ranking is yet another hierarchy of perceptions. And perceptions are subjective. They are opinions. While they may be informed opinions, they nonetheless don’t carry the weight of fact.

And therein lies the problem with today’s public discourse. In our quest to shape our deductive worldview we have lost the intellectual discipline of deduction itself. Our leaders of every stripe no longer seek to contribute to debate so much as they seek to win it – to dominate and crush those of an opposing view.

The ultimate lesson, I believe, is that deduction, despite the appearance of absolute objectivity, is not linear in the end. It ultimately folds back on itself and all sense of balance is lost. The fact-centric become the opinion-centric. The tools of deduction become the weapons of division and derision.

It is a slippery slope. And, yes, that is an opinion induced from observation and proudly acknowledged as such. I may be wrong. And I, for one, find that immensely liberating.

Contact: You may reach the author at understandingchina@yahoo.com. Mr. Moreau is also available for public speaking and the provision of third-party written content on a wide variety of topics for your website or other communications material.