20 March, 2014

"The Russian Strategy for Empire"

"The thing that hath been, it is that which shall be." - Ecclesiastes 1:9  [1]

Over the last few weeks the sections of the blogosphere which I frequent have been filled with predictions, advice, summaries of, and idle chatter about the situation in Ukraine and Crimea.  I have refrained from commenting on these events for a fairly simple reason: I am no expert in Russian or Eastern European affairs. Any expertise that my personal experiences or formal studies allow me to claim is on the opposite side of Eurasia. Thus I am generally content to let those who, in John Schindler's words, "actually know something" take the lead in picking apart statements from the Kiev or the Kremlin. [2] My knowledge of the peoples and regions involved is limited to broad historical strokes.

But sometimes broad historical strokes breed their own special sort of insights.

I have before suggested that one of the benefits of studying history is that it allows a unique opportunity to understand reality from the "Long View." From this perspective the daily headlines do not simply record the decisions of a day, the instant reactions of one statesmen to crises caused by another, but the outcome of hundreds of choices accumulated over centuries. It allows you to rip your gaze away from the eddies swirling on the top of the water to focus on the seismic changes happening deep below.

To keep the Long View in mind, I often stop and ask myself a simple question as I read the news:  "What will a historian say about this event in 60 years? How will it fit into the narrative that the historians of the future will share?"

With these questions are considered contemporary events take on an entirely new significance.

Expansion of Russia, 1533-1894.
Credit: Wikimedia.
As I have watched affairs in Crimea from afar, my thoughts turn to one such 'Long View' narrative written by historian S.C.M. Paine. In Dr. Paine's peerless The Wars for Asia, 1911-1949 she spares a few paragraphs to explain the broad historical context in which Soviet statesmen made their decisions. She calls this traditional course of Russian statecraft the Russian "strategy for empire":

"The Communists not only held together all of the tsarist empire but greatly expanded it in World War II. They did so in part by relying on Russia's traditional and highly successful strategy for empire, which sought security through creeping buffer zones combined with astutely coordinated diplomacy and military operations against weak neighbors to ingest their territory at opportune moments. Russia surrounded itself with buffer zones and failing states. During the tsarist period, the former were called governor-generalships, jurisdictions under military authority for a period of initial colonization and stabilization. Such areas generally contained non-Russian populations and bordered on foreign lands.

Russia repeatedly applied the Polish model to its neighbors. Under Catherine the Great, Russia had partitioned Poland three times in the late eighteenth century, crating a country ever less capable of administering its affairs as Russia in combination with Prussia and Austria gradually ate it alive. Great and even middling power on the borders were dangerous. So they must be divided, a fate shared by Poland, the Ottoman Empire, Persia, China, and post World War II, Germany and Korea. It is no coincidence that so many divided states border on Russia. Nor is it coincidence that so many unstable states sit on its periphery" (emphasis added). [3]

It is difficult to read this description and not see parallels with what is happening in Ukraine now (or what happened in Georgia in 2008). Dr. Paine's description of Russian foreign policy stretches from the 18th century to the middle of the 20th. Perhaps historians writing 60 years hence will use this same narrative--but extend it well into the 21st.


[1] Authorized Version.
[2] John Schindler. "Nobody Knows Anything." XX Committee. 16 March 2014. 
[3] S.C.M. Paine. The Wars For Asia, 1911-1949. (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2012), pp. 83-84.

15 March, 2014

Notes From All Over (15/03/2014): Poles, Plutocrats, and Population Genetics

A collection of articles, essays, and blog post of merit.

I have been much busier these last few weeks than expected. I did not have time to compile one of these lists back in February, so a few of these readings were published all the way back in January.


"The Play is the Thing But the Blood is the Trumpet"
Lynn Rees. Zenpundit. 5 March 2013.

Lynn Rees. Zenpundit. 26 February 2013. 

"Every Mountain Dew Has Its Mellow Yellow"
22 February 2013. Zenpundit. 23 February 2013.

"Pole Position"
Lynn Rees. Zenpundit. 5 March 2013.

Lynn Rees is one of the most talented historical essayists (and one of driest wits) on the internet. He writes sparingly, but when his pen is put to paper brilliance spills forth. He has a rare skill for finding  relevant parallels to 21st century concerns in obscure historical figures and events. Two of these essays are a perfect case in point, centering on Jozef Pilduski and his attempt to create a Polish state. The third essay deals with the much better known figure of Winston Churchill, while the final essay is a discussion of America's strategic priorities in Ukraine in the year 2014. 

 In the three weeks since this essay ("Feckless") was published, I have not found a better treatment of the Crimean Crisis or a more sound set of policy prescriptions than the ones given by Mr. Rees here. As always, his writing is strongly recommended.

"Unified China and Divided Europe"
Chiu Yu Ko, Mark Koyama, and Tuan-Hwee Sng. Social Sciences Research Network. 20 January 2014.

I had hoped to devote a post to this paper and its conclusions, but I fear I simply will not have time for it anytime soon. I am quite sure I will reference it in the future, however; Mr. Ko and company some how manage to touch on every single subject discussed here at the Stage: measuring premodern economic growth, the way China's geography has shaped its history, the relationship between nomadic societies and agrarian civilization, the causes of the 'great divergence' -- if we have blogged about it here, then it is found in this study!

(Warning: For those not mathematically inclined parts of the paper will be a bit dense, but the equations can be skipped without fear of losing their central points.)


"Essay: Anatomy of the Deep State"
Michael Lofgren. billmoyers.com. 21 February 2014.
During the time in 2011 when political warfare over the debt ceiling was beginning to paralyze the business of governance in Washington, the United States government somehow summoned the resources to overthrow Muammar Ghaddafi’s regime in Libya, and, when the instability created by that coup spilled over into Mali, provide overt and covert assistance to French intervention there.... Yes, there is another government concealed behind the one that is visible at either end of Pennsylvania Avenue, a hybrid entity of public and private institutions ruling the country according to consistent patterns in season and out, connected to, but only intermittently controlled by, the visible state whose leaders we choose. My analysis of this phenomenon is not an exposé of a secret, conspiratorial cabal; the state within a state is hiding mostly in plain sight, and its operators mainly act in the light of day. Nor can this other government be accurately termed an “establishment.” All complex societies have an establishment, a social network committed to its own enrichment and perpetuation. In terms of its scope, financial resources and sheer global reach, the American hybrid state, the Deep State, is in a class by itself.
See also: "Breaking up the NSA," Bruce Schneier, Schneier on Security, 25 February 2013.

H/T to Michael Kennedy at Chicago Boyz.

 "Social Liberalism as Class Warfare"
 Ross Douthat. New York Times. 29 January 2013.
… is it just a coincidence that this self-interested elite holds the nearly-uniformly liberal views on social issues that it does? Is it just random that the one idea binding the post-1970s upper class together — uniting Wall Street’s Randians and Harvard’s academic socialists, a left-leaning media and a right-leaning corporate sector, the libertarians of Silicon Valley and the liberal rich of the Upper West Side — is a hostility to any kind of social conservatism, any kind of morals legislation, any kind of paternalism on issues of sex and marriage and family? Is the upper class’s social liberalism the lone case, the rare exception, where our self-segregated, self-interested elites really do have the greater good at heart?
....But if we’re inclined to see our elite as fundamentally self-interested, then we should ask ourselves whether the combination of personal restraint and cultural-political permissiveness might not itself be part of how this elite maintains its privileges. Waldman, for instance, makes the (completely valid) point that just telling a single mother to go get married to whomever she happens to be dating isn’t likely to lead to happy outcomes for anyone involved. But is that really just because of wage stagnation and the truncation of the potential-mates bell curve? Or could it also be that the decision to marry only delivers benefits when it’s part of a larger life script, a way of pursuing love and happiness that shapes people’s life choices – men as well as women — from the moment they come of age sexually, and that exerts its influence not through the power of a singular event (ring, cake, toasts) but through that event’s place in a larger mix of cues, signals, expectations, and beliefs?
....And following our hermeneutic of anti-elite suspicion, let’s ask: If the path to human flourishing still mostly runs through monogamy and marriage, who benefits the most from the kind of changes that make that path less normative, less law-supported, less obvious? Well, mostly people who are embedded in communities that continue to send the kind of signals that the law and the wider culture no longer send.
Related: "The Post Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of America," Joseph Bottum. The American. 22 February 2014.

Millennials in Adulthood: Detached from Institutions, Networked with Friends
Pew Research Center. 7 March 2013. 

Those pressed for time need only read the executive summary


"A Genetic Atlas of Human Admixture History"
Garrett Hellenthal1, et. al. Science. Vol. 343, no. 6172 (14 February 2014), pp. 747-751

See Also: The interactive map published with the paper, and Razib Khan's summary "Tracing Historical Genetic Leap-Frogging," Unz Review, 16 February 2014.

"Tipping Point Revolutions and State Breakdown Revolutions: Why Revolutions Succeed or Fail"
Randall Collins. The Sociological Eye. 20 June 2013

"The Germ Theory of Democracy, Dictatorship, and All Your Most Cherished Beliefs
Ethan Watters. Pacific Standard. 3 March 2014.

H/T for both of these to Isegoria

"Big Summary Post on the Hajnal Line"
"hbd*chick." hbd*chick. 10 March 2013.

"On the Ancient State: Some Hittite Legal Cases"
Al West. West's Meditations. 1 January 2013.


"Signal, Noise, and Jack Bauer."
Adam Elkus. Rethinking Security. 8 March 2013.
[This] is a perspective that leads to "incremental" and "dull" analysis and better fits the temperament of the accountant than the romantic.  When it comes to much of what we regard as politics and punditry, the lack of passion and romanticism that soberness necessitates is a feature, not a bug. Many are drawn to politics because they are romantics, full of passion and aesthetic verve rather than statistics books or “dull” and “incremental” scholarship about the stuff of both domestic and intentional affairs....

[Thus a] serious divide looms — between those who see politics in “dull” and “incremental” terms and those who view politics as a sort of literary romance. Unlike Andreesen’s divide between the technical-trusters and the people/institution-trusters, this one is harder to bridge. There isn’t necessarily an natural or obvious intersection between the two camps. There is very little romanticism in R scripts, Bayes, or prediction models. The lyrical and passionate Nassim Nicholas Taleb of “Black Swan” fame seems to be the exception to the rule, but an exception nonetheless.

 The State, The Clan, and Individual Liberty
Panel debate with Mark Weiner, Arnold Kling, Daniel McCarthy, and John Fabian Witt. Cato Unbound. March 2014.

"The Slate Star Codex Political Spectrum Quiz"
Scott Alexander. Slate Star Codex. 8 March 2013.

This is the only political quiz I will ever direct any of my readers to. This one is worth it.


"How America can Survive--Even Prosper--in the 21st Century"
"Fabius Maximus Editor." Fabius Maximus. 16 February 2014.

 "The Fight Tearing the Country in Two"
Chaiyot Yongcharoenchai. The Bangkok Post. 9 February 2014.

If you only ever read one article about the ongoing crisis in Thailand, this should be it.

"In Thailand, the Cost of Overfishing is Trafficked Human Beings"
Gwyinn Guilford. Quartz. 5 March 2014.


"A better indicator for standard of living: The Gross National Disposable Income"
Clara Capelli and Gianni Vaggi. VoxEU. 6 March 2014

"China's Credit Nightmare Explained in One Chart"
Tyler Durden. Zero Hedge. 14 March 2013.

"What Jobs Will the Robots Take?"
Yves Smith. Naked Capitalism. 30 January 2013.


"Deterring the Dragons... From (Under) The Sea"
Victor Vescovo. Proceedings Magazine. Vol. 140, No. 2. February 2014.

Related: "Clock is Ticking-Taiwan Could Resist a Chinese Invasion For Just One Month"
Kyle Mizokami. War is Boring (Medium). 15 March 2013.

"The Failed Pacific Pivot"
John Feffer. The Nation. 28 January 2013.

 "On MRAPs; or Protecting Our Troops and Eroding Local Support in Baghdad"
 John Amble. War on the Rocks. 3 March 2014.


 "Women Should Embrace the B's in College to Make More Later"
Catherine Rampell.  Washington Post. 11 March 2014.
...Goldin looked at how grades awarded in an introductory economics class affected the chance that a student would ultimately major in the subject. She found that the likelihood a woman would major in economics dropped steadily as her grade fell: Women who received a B in Econ 101, for example, were about half as likely as women who received A’s to stick with the discipline. The same discouragement gradient didn’t exist for men. Of Econ 101 students, men who received A’s were about equally as likely as men who received B’s to concentrate in the dismal science.
See also: "There is no Gender Gap in Tech Salaries
 Cynthia Than. Quartz. 4 March 2014.

 "The Shortage of STEM Workers: Another Bogus Crisis Crafted to Benefit the 1%."
"Fabius Maximus Editor." Fabius Maximus. 28 February 2014.


08 March, 2014

Smallpox on the Steppe

Image Source: "Chinese Smallpox Inoculation" (or. image c. 1911), The Historical Medical Library of The College of Physicians of Philadelphia, History of Vaccines Project (2012).

Few diseases have caused as much misery and death as smallpox. Smallpox has a 30% mortality rate in normal conditions, but in populations unexposed to the plague the death toll upon first contact is much, much higher. Originating in the urban slums of agrarian Eurasia, its presence was an accepted part of life in the great cities of Europe, the Middle East, India, and China. The peoples of the New World, Australia, and the Pacific Islands were blessed to live free of the disease for most of their histories. Contact with Europeans was first contact with their distinctive diseases; in many ways the history of European expansion across the globe is the story of one smallpox epidemic after another,  missionaries, merchants, and conquerors bringing the dreaded disease wherever they roamed.

 Resistance to the deadly maladies of the Old World has been described as one of the defining advantages of Eurasian civilization, but this tale is not unique to the European expansion. Not everyone in pre-modern Eurasia lived so intimately with illness and misery. Many peoples living in the cross roads of the Old World lived just as isolated from the filth and sickness of Eurasian urban centers as islanders living oceans away. Historian Peter Perdue explains:

Most notably, Central Asians remained nearly isolated front the European and Asian disease pools until the eighteenth century. Then smallpox, among other diseases, decimated the Mongolian population when it came into contact with Chinese settlers, just as Native American and Oceanic populations died off after the European conquests of the New World.

Mongols knew in the mid-fifteenth century that they could catch smallpox from the Chinese, and the Chinese in turn warned them not to settle too close to the border to avoid spreading it. The Ming dynasty held only sporadic horse fairs where Mongols and Chinese mingled; then Chinese bans on frontier trade in retaliation for nomadic raids had as a by-product the effect of protecting the Mongols from infection." Chinese migrants who went beyond the Great Wall, however, could also spread the disease, and there were more than 100,000 of them in southern Mongolia by 1590. Still, few Mongols caught the disease under the Ming.

The Manchus, before the founding of the Qing, also rarely encountered smallpox, but they knew of its danger. Mongols and Manchus who had not been exposed to the disease were exempted from coming to Beijing to receive titles of succession. The main response of the Mongols and Manchus to those who did fall ill was quarantine. Li Xinheng commented that if anyone in a tribe caught smallpox, his relatives abandoned him in a cave or distant grassland. Seventy to 80 percent of those infected died. The German traveler Peter Simon Pallas, who visited the Mongols three times front 1768 to I771, commented that smallpox was the only disease they greatly feared. It occurred very seldom, but spread rapidly when it struck: “If someone catches it, they abandon him in his tent; they only approach front the windward side to provide food. Children who catch it are sold to the Russians very cheaply.” The Mongols whom Pallas visited lived far from the Chinese border, but they knew well that smallpox was highly contagious and nearly fatal.

The Chinese discovery of variolation-a method of inoculation-was of great aid in reducing the severity of attacks. The Kangxi emperor himself was selected as heir in part because he had survived the disease in childhood; his father had died of it. In 1687 he inaugurated regular inoculation of the royal family, and his successor extended mandatory inoculation to all Manchu children. The Manchus adopted this Chinese medical practice in order to protect themselves against the virulent strains that were absent from the steppe. Only Manchus who had survived the disease were allowed to be sent to the Mongolian steppe. Mongols close to the Manchu and Chinese border gradually grew immune, but those farther away suffered great losses in the nineteenth century when Chinese penetration increased. [1]

As was the case with the European conquests and expansion in the new world, smallpox played an important role in the Qing Dynasty's conquest and expansion to the west:

Disease determined critical turning points in the conflict between the Manchus and Zunghars. Ligdan Khan, the first major Mongol rival to Manchu rule, died of smallpox. In 1745, when the Zunghar Khan Galdan Tsenen died, outbreaks of smallpox caused upheaval among the Zunghars; one report stated that 30 percent of them died. Another epidemic struck Zungharia in the 1750s, just as the Qianlong emperor launched his final campaign. The last rebel against Manchu domination, the young prince Amursana, died of smallpox at the age of thirty-five, opening the way to the complete conquest of Xinjiang. Wei Yuan estimated, after the Zunghars had vanished as a people, that 40 percent of them died of smaIlpox—more than lost their lives in battle or fled to Russia.

The Mongols for their part tried to avoid contact with Han Chinese as much as possible. Apparently they never learned the variolation techniques, so their only recourse was isolation. When negotiating licensed trade with the Qing in the 1740s, Galdan Tseren feared that his envoys would catch the disease when they passed through Chinese territory, so he asked for permission to avoid the northwestern towns of Hami and Suzhou and instead go direct to Dongkeer. Tibetans also tried to avoid traveling in the Chinese interior: the Panchen Lama used his lack of immunity to smallpox as an excuse to avoid an audience with the Kangxi emperor in Beijing. The Manchus themselves often tried to accommodate the Mongols in order to spare their lives. ‘The Kangxi emperor noted that many surrendered Mongols living in the capital were dying of diseases. He pitied them he cause “the capital’s food and drink are against their nature,‘ and they were “like caged birds and animals.” so he provided them with tents and settled them beyond the wall in Zhangjiakou and Guihua. When Mongol children flocked to Kangxi's military camp in the Ordos while he was on campaign. called in a special doctor to inoculate them.

....The vulnerability of the Mongols to smallpox is eloquent testimony to their isolation from the germ pools of dense populations. At the same time, their constant contacts with the Manchus and Chinese made them aware of the danger, even though they could not prevent its incidence. The Manchus, by contrast, could take active measures against the disease, having closer regular contact with the Chinese, greater medical knowledge, and greater acquired immunity. They in turn used this knowledge to inoculate Mongols who surrendered to them, leaving those who resisted them to face the ravages of the disease. The disease environment itself significantly affected the outcome of the conflict, but the disease vectors acted through human agency.

Dr. Perdue slightly exaggerates his case--disease has traditionally been the most frequent cause of campaign deaths for armies the world over and is hardly extraordinary here--but his description points to an unappreciated attribute of traditional nomadic societies. The Mongols and Manchus had little resistance to diseases like smallpox because they were not normally exposed to diseases like smallpox

For several millenia historians have tried to explain the generally superior strength and endurance of steppe warriors, often focusing on the demands of life in the saddle or the nomads' protein-rich diets as the explanation for their vitality. A more powerful explanation may be the absence of the debilitating and deadly diseases of settled life among the peoples of the steppe.


[1] Peter Purdue. China Marches West: The Qing Conquest of Central Eurasia. (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2009). p.47.

[2] ibid., pp. 47-48.

01 March, 2014

From Foreigners to Countrymen: How Many Generations Until Immigrants Think Like the Rest of Us?

I have long been fascinated by the "deep culture" differences that distinguish humanity's numerous ethnic and cultural groups. That peoples from different continents and climes have different rules of etiquette, eat different foods, follow different schedules, and worship different gods is well known. But in many ways these differences barely scratch the surface of humanity's diversity; they are cosmetic veneers, outside expressions of much deeper distinctions. The most interesting cultural differences are found at the unconscious, cognitive level. They shape the way people perceive the world around them, what attitudes and biases they hold, and even what emotions they feel. Pin pointing these "deep culture" differences, identifying which are learned through social interaction and which are received through genetic inheritance, and discerning the way these differences affect demographic, economic, and political realities across the globe are tasks I approach with gusto.

I am quite sure that any reader who shares these interests will find this paper to be one of the most interesting studies they have come across in a long while.
The paper is an old (originally published in 1999) but fascinating one. [1] Written by a team put together by social psychologist Steven Heine, the paper summarizes and investigates dozens of studies on the differences between North American and Japanese social cognition. Nowadays all psychologists  recognize that North Americans have a unique psychological profile quite distinct from the rest of humanity. [2] In 1999 this was a much more radical proposition.  To show how thoroughly  researched  emotions and biases often attributed to "human nature" could be distinctly American affairs, Dr. Heines and company chose a perfect target: self esteem. 

Buzzword of the decade, vital to little league soccer games and business gurus alike, high self esteem is often depicted as a cornerstone for a successful life and basic psychological need we all share. This is more or less true--for Americans. The same cannot be said for the Japanese. Dr. Heine and his team present mountains of evidence to show just how small a part self esteem plays in Japanese culture and how little a high sense of self esteem matters to their happiness, productivity, or any other metric of well being.

Those interested in this topic really should read the entire paper (or at least pp. 769-779). If you have never heard of concepts like ganbaru or hansei then the essay has quite a bit to teach you. This post, however, will not summarize all of their findings. What I will focus on here are is just a subset of the paper's larger case: a set of particularly intriguing longitudinal studies designed to track levels of self esteem (as measured by the Rosenberg scale) among Japanese immigrants to Canada.   

They begin by noting that "within North American psychological literature, it has become a truism that a typical self view is a positive self view." This is certainty true for Americans and Canadians, "where the skewness is so pronounced that... most North Americans  who are classified as having 'low self esteem'  by means of median splits, a common classification scheme, actually have moderate scores in an absolute sense." [3]

Figure 1: Self Esteem scores among European Canadians.

Steven Heine, et. al. "Is There a Universal Need For Positive Self Regard?" Psychological Review (1999), Vol. 106, No. 4.  p. 776

The Japanese respondent's reported self esteem had a very different distribution:

Figure 2: Distribution of Self Esteem Scores Among Never-Been-Abroad-Japanese.

Steven Heine, et. al. "Is There a Universal Need For Positive Self Regard?" Psychological Review (1999), Vol. 106, No. 4.  p. 772

The base-line differences between Japanese and North Americans are by themselves  quite interesting. But the data becomes all the  more fascinating when the same methods are applied to Japanese immigrants and their descendents in North America:
 Heine and Lehman (1999) classified over 4,000 Canadian and Japanese students on a continuum with respect to exposure to North American culture. In an increasing order of exposure these were: (a) Japanese who had never been outside Japan (b) Japanese who had spent time in a Western country; (c) recent Asian immigrants (from a number of Asian countries); (d) Asians who immigrated to Canada several years ago; (e) second generation Asian-descent Canadians; (f) Third generation Asian-descent Canadians; (g) European descent Canadians.  This classification resulted in a remarkably clear relation between exposure to North American culture and self esteem. [4]

Here are their results presented in graph form:

Figure 3: "Self Esteem and Exposure to North American Culture."

Steven Heine, et. al. "Is There a Universal Need For Positive Self Regard?" Psychological Review (1999), Vol. 106, No. 4.  p. 776
The authors continue:
Three recent longitudinal acculturation studies provide additional evidence that engagement in North American culture fosters the development of positive self views. In the first study, self-esteem scores of visiting Japanese exchange students were compared with scores collected 7 months later. The average self-esteem scores of the visiting Japanese students increased significantly by 1.8 points over this time. A complementary longitudinal study was conducted with Canadian English teachers who went to go live in Japan. exhibited a significant decrease in self esteem f 1.0 points over this time. A third longitudinal study measured self esteem in a second group of Japanese students before they left Japan and then again 7 months after their arrival in Canada. In this study Japanese exhibited a nonsignificant increase of self esteem of 0.3 points.... however, a significant correlation (r=.32) emerged between the student's self esteem change and their acculturation attitudes. Those students who had assimilated and integrated the most into Canadian life exhibited greater self esteem increases. [5]

There are a few conclusions we can glean from all this.

First off, it seems very clear that self esteem is a fairly elastic trait. It can vary widely over the course of one's life and varies by even greater amounts from one generation to another. This has wider implications than is initially apparent: cultural psychologists have found that one of the greatest differences between peoples East and West is an interdependent vs. independent "sense of self."   Heine and company make a fairly strong case in the paper that the need for high self esteem is a product of a strong independent sense of self. This suggests that changing self esteem scores may simply be a sign post for a much larger psychological shift. [6]

This will probably not surprise anyone who has lived in or worked with Asian American immigrant communities. Anybody who thinks that the attitudes and opinions of a 3rd generation Chinese-, Japanese-, Cambodian-, or Vietnamese-American is a good proxy for said person's ancestors' has never met someone actually born in one of these countries. All who have seen firsthand the way miscommunication and cultural conflict can tear apart Asian-American families can testify that the generational gap between the attitudes of immigrants and their children or grandchildren is real. Though many 3rd generation Asian-Americans are fiercely loyal to their cultural heritage, it is often much easier for them to understand the world view and attitudes of their peers than that of their own parents and grand parents. The conflict this causes is often painful and severe.

However, even those actually born abroad are not representative of their original homeland--as Figure 3 suggests, the most dramatic difference in self esteem (and presumably independence) is not between one generation and another, but between those who have never visited North America at all and those who have lived here for a long time!

This is fairly strong evidence that most variation in self esteem--and possibly differences in independence and interdependence self esteem reflects--are not deeply rooted in history, socioeconomics, or genetics. As with violent crime rates among immigrant populations, acculturation is probably the most important factor at play. This should provide some comfort to those who worry about America's capacity to assimilate what is now the largest source of newly arriving immigrants


[1] Steven Heine, Darin Lehman, Hazel Rose Markus, and Shinobu Kitayama.  "Is There a Universal Need For Positive Self Regard?" Psychological Review (1999), Vol. 106, No. 4.  pp. 766-794.

[2] Joseph Henrich, Steven Heine, and Ara Norenzayan. "The Weirdest People in the World?" Behavioral and Brain Sciences (2010), vol 33. pp. 66-135.

[3] Steven Heine, et. al. "Is There a Universal Need For Positive Self Regard?" pp. 775-776

[4] ibid.,  p. 776.

[5] ibid.

[6] This also accords with several other studies conducted by social psychologists concluding that subtle cultural symbols can unconsciously "prime" Asian Americans to think with Western or Asian attitudes about the self . See Richard Nisbettt, The Geography of Thought: How Asians and Easterners Think Differently... and Why (New York: Free Press, 2003). pp. 67-68; 118-119.