The general social complexity factor is a thing

The above is the Inglehart–Welzel cultural map of the world, derived from responses to the World Values Survey which are subject to principal component analysis. Basically, you take all the variation and pull out the biggest independent dimensions which can explain the variation. You’ve seen this with genetic data, but the method is pretty common in the social sciences.

When you do this with genetic data and human populations and use adequate sample representation PC1 is almost always African vs. non-African and PC2 is West Eurasia/North Africa vs. the rest of the world that’s not Africa. Though one can quibble with the details the reality is that these patterns are easy to reconcile with evolutionary history. Humans first split between Africans and non-Africans, and the west vs. east division in Eurasia is arguably the next major bifurcation (and gene flow barrier).

For the above map, the first two principal components explain 70 percent of the variance in the data. So what are they? You can see above that they labeled the x-axis as survival to self-expression, and the y-axis tradition to secular-rational. I’m not hung up on what this means and am not going to explore that. Rather, notice the geographic clustering.  These dimensions pass the smell test in terms of their clustering.

If you look at the distributions pretty much none of them should be surprising to you historically.  Protestant Northern Europe was very different in 1700 from today, but it was already a coherent socio-cultural phenomenon. Similarly, Russia has been historically distinct from Western Europe culturally for nearly the whole of its existence as a coherent polity (from ~1000 AD on). In fact, the marriage of Ann of Kiev into the French royal family in the 11th century may be indicative of the closest relationship of what became Russia to the West before the early modern period.* On this map, Russia and other Eastern European nations are quite distant from Northern Europe, and to some extent from Catholic Europe.

But this map isn’t just a reflection of geography. You see that Serbia, Bosnia, Croatia, and Slovenia occupy positions in relationship to Russia and Western Europe exactly where you would predict from their history. Serbia has a much stronger affinity with Russia, Croatia is in Catholic Europe, while Slovenia seems more like Northern European nations than Croatia. Bosnia occupies a position between Croatia and Serbia. These variations are important because ethno-linguistically the divisions between Serbians, Croatians and Bosnians (and lesser extent Slovenians) are minor. They originate from groups of Slavs who settled among the native Pannonians, whether Latin or Illyrian speaking, only in the centuries before 1000 AD.

What you are seeing here quantitatively are the historical fissures that occurred during to division between Western and Eastern Europe through theological conflict, and later the shock of the Tatar Yoke for the Russians, and Ottoman domination in the Balkans. If you know some history the reality that Croatia is Catholic, and oriented toward the West, and long been under Austrian and Hungarian hegemony, explains why it is where it is culturally. Similarly, Serbia is Orthodox, was oriented toward Byzantium, and later subjugated for centuries under the Ottomans.

But most people don’t know much history. This is why visual representations of quantitative social science data are quite useful. It’s almost impossible to convince the ignorant of historical truths when they don’t know any history because they can’t tell if you are making things up. Usually they trust you if you are part of their in-group, and distrust you if you are of an out-group.

For example, over the years a few times I’ve had really strange conversations about whether Russia is a Western nation or not on Twitter. There are roughly two groups that assert Russia is a Western nation: 1) white nationalists, for whom whiteness is necessary and sufficient for being Western 2) historically naive public intellectuals who can’t evaluate competing hypotheses, and implicitly impute Western identity to Russia because Russians are white and Christian (at least culturally). With white nationalists obviously there isn’t going to be a major argument. Their framework is just so different.

But historically naive public intellectuals are a different case. They simply don’t know enough facts to make even the weakest judgement, and so default back to the heuristic of racial and cultural categorization at the coarsest levels (this also explains their need to transform white-skinned and often blue-eyed Turkish and Balkan Muslims into “people of color”). At this point one can point out a lot of facts, including the reality that for centuries Russian intellectuals themselves debated about whether to become Western or retain their own distinctive identity as separate. And yet at the end of it all how would someone who doesn’t know much history know whether to give credibility to my contentions? If I stated that much of late medieval Russian statecraft owed much to experience of princes who grew up under the Tatar Yoke as well as the creation of a frontier culture which assimilated aspects of the Tatar lifestyle (as well as some Tatar nobility, who converted to Christianity and became part of the boyar class), how would they easily figure out if I’m bullshitting them? (yes, they could go read-up, but by the fact they don’t know relatively introductory history well into adulthood indicates no deep interest in doing this).

Quantitative and formal measures give us a simple language that even the naive can navigate. One can define Russia as within the West, or without, but one can not deny that socio-culturally it is quite distinct from Western and Northern European cultures. The data say it is so!

This brings me to a new paper in PNAS (OA), Quantitative historical analysis uncovers a single dimension of complexity that structures global variation in human social organization. It’s one of the first results from the Seshat: Global History Databank. Peter Turchin is heavily involved in this, but I notice the above paper also includes Harvey Whitehouse on the author list. I’ve long admired his work on the cognitive dimension of cultural production and variation.

Here’s the abstract:

Do human societies from around the world exhibit similarities in the way that they are structured, and show commonalities in the ways that they have evolved? These are long-standing questions that have proven difficult to answer. To test between competing hypotheses, we constructed a massive repository of historical and archaeological information known as “Seshat: Global History Databank.” We systematically coded data on 414 societies from 30 regions around the world spanning the last 10,000 years. We were able to capture information on 51 variables reflecting nine characteristics of human societies, such as social scale, economy, features of governance, and information systems. Our analyses revealed that these different characteristics show strong relationships with each other and that a single principal component captures around three-quarters of the observed variation. Furthermore, we found that different characteristics of social complexity are highly predictable across different world regions. These results suggest that key aspects of social organization are functionally related and do indeed coevolve in predictable ways. Our findings highlight the power of the sciences and humanities working together to rigorously test hypotheses about general rules that may have shaped human history.

Intuitively most people would have guessed this. Social complexity is a thing. Human cultural evolution has exhibited some directionality or at least a general secular trend. If you have read a lot of history and thought about these things you’d come to these conclusions intuitively.

I could also assert that northern France in the 12th century AD was a more socially complex society than the one the Romans conquered in the 1st century BC. Why? I could give plenty of reasons. But it is at this point that a fashionable viewpoint in some academic circles would problematize this assertion, and argue that characterizing High Medieval France as more complex than pre-Roman Gaul exposes one’s own assumptions and beliefs, as opposed to facts about the world.

You know the type. One problem one often encounters with this line of argument is that the individuals making the argument really don’t know enough in terms of facts to know what they’re refuting. Rather, they’ve been caught along on a current academic fashion.

This is why figures like the one to the left are important. It shows values on the social complexity factor, PC1, for Latium (red), the Paris basin (blue) and Iceland (green). What you see is that the Paris basin lags Latium up until around 0 AD. At this point there is catch-up. Though Gallic social complexity was already increasing in the centuries up to the Roman conquest (one reason the Romans found conquest of Gaul useful was that it was wealthy enough to steal from), it was only around the time of assimilation into the Roman state that it caught up to Latium.

Latium and the Paris basin both decrease in social complexity after the fall of the Roman Empire. But after 1000 AD the Paris basin outstrips Latium. In the 12th century it does seem that the Paris basin was more socially complex than it was in the pre-Roman period.

It is much easier to point an ignorant person to a chart than go through a laundry list of facts. Facts without context and background knowledge are not useful. But visualizations of data are much more easily digestible.

The authors show that the nine complexity characteristics are highly correlated with each other. Some of these make sense (those related to polity scale). But others are not as straightforward, though the verbal arguments present themselves (e.g., polities with lots of people are more likely to need written scripts for bureaucratic record keeping; the data show this to be true). Additionally, the models that are general can predict patterns in individual regions. That implies that the same dynamics are occurring cross-culturally. Each society is not sui generis for the purposes of analysis.

Of course a standard retort will be that the selection and coding of criteria of complexity itself is biased. That’s fine. But with formal methods we can actually hash out disagreements and points of interpretation in a much simple and clear manner than before. Ultimately I think those who object to this sort of analysis actually object to analysis driven by data and formal methods, as opposed to their own intuitions and personal preference. After all, it’s not a great discovery to find that there is a common cross-cultural dynamic which underpins social complexity.

But in the future Seshat and the researchers who utilize it will smoke out counter-intuitive or surprising results. The data and methods are there.

* Ann herself seems to have been mostly of Scandinavian ancestry as was the norm for the early Kievan nobility. Her mother was a Swedish-born princess, while her father was a Slavicized Rurikid.

34 thoughts on “The general social complexity factor is a thing

  1. Sitting in Kiev, reading this blog post with a cup of coffee in the morning, was quite an annoying experience. I think you can easily guess why=)

    Anyway, that reminded me of that political exchange in spring-summer, when Putin at meeting with Macron said that “enlightened French public knows about the Russian Anne – Queen of France” (what annoyed a lot of Ukrainians) and later Macron at meeting with Poroshenko kinda responded that Anna of Kyiv unites Ukraine and France.

  2. It is interesting the Poland and India end up so very close to each other on the world values chart. I would have never suspected that a priori and there is only a thin recent historical connection between the two (both half-heartedly adopted Russian influenced socialism).

    Flipping the self-expression/survival axis on that map would also make the geographical correlations of the results with the map more direct.

  3. 3 quick reactions. Society in Paris and Italy. Was it not Catherine de Medici queen of France who brought the use of forks to the French Court?

    The Tatar Yoke. Russians love to sigh deeply when they intone that phrase. The truth of the matter is that the yoke consisted of paying tribute.

    Tribute that was usually collected by a local Slavic ruler. It was how Dimitry Donskoy got his start. The Tatars had almost no contact with the Slavs. There was no institution like the Ottoman devsirme.

    The development of the Russian autocratic state can be sufficiently explained by the growth of the power of Moscow. It was Ivan III who destroyed the Republic of Novgorod. And serfdom was not codified until the 16th century, long after the Tatars had been driven off.

    I wonder where places like Russia would have been placed on the Rationality/Tradition axis before the Soviet Union? I would guess that China was far less impacted by Communism than was Russia. Notice that China is clustered with S Korea that never was Communist.

  4. Walter, I was just thinking about the difference between communism’s impact (as an ideology and cultural meme-complex) on China and Russia because I was reading Yuri Slezkine’s excellent “The House of Government” and it is clear that the Russian intelligentsia (and yes, Jewish-origin intellectuals disproportionately so) adopted communism with greater/deeper understanding of Marxism and much greater commitment to its tenets than the Chinese ever did. There were surely hyper-educated true believers in China, but most of the CCP leadership was nationalist, vaguely socialist and pragmatic. And while they killed tens of millions during collectivization, they were never as anti-peasant as the Russian intellectuals, and most of them seem to genuinely regret what happened. It seems to me that the event is remembered in China as more of a tragedy than it is in the USSR (part of that of course is just distance from it in terms of time). These are just half-formed thoughts, I would love to see if someone has good insights or links to articles/books about this topic.

  5. When I happened to find myself in Sevastopol, Crimea, anno 2000: I had reason to spent a pleasant afternoon with a fellow mid-life expat who, like me, was a reg’lar white-bread, fair-skinned, blue-eyed, northwest euro-mutt American. He had lived inside the ex-Soviet countries for over a decade, had pretty much ‘gone native’ therein, and so was naturally by then well-attuned with that society. We were standing on the upper deck of a local ferry on a mild sunny mid-summer day (the airs of coastal Crimea very pleasant at that time of year, I recommend) looking down at the locals in the quayside going about their daily business. We had just exchanged stories of being ‘roofied’ [for older readers ‘mickey-finned’]: (Me– several weeks before, in Romania, unsuccessful attempt which, snapping into street-savvy alertness in the nick of time, I narrowly averted after one sip in suspicious-enough circumstances – a newly-befriended local had groomed me for several days, and had, moments before, set me up in a nightclub -not a habitat I care for. As I felt a pronounced heaviness suddenly begin to take over my limbs, I bolted for the door before the leaning henchmen, who were waiting for me to slump in my seat, had time to react. Adrenaline carried me out to the narrow cobble-stoned street, rapid stumble-stepping down the hill to the bus station, and so I escaped to my home-stay in the residential Soviet apartment-blocks…)/(He– some years before had invited a local up to his Moscow apartment, made himself and his guest some coffee, and woke on his side, next to the kitchen wall, as four guys rapidly cleaned out his apartment of all valuables –he leaned up on one elbow and began to weakly object. One of the thieves went over to where he lay, looked him in the eye, and gave him a good hard kick in the stomach, thus firmly asserting the nature of power relations in that moment. Whereat my friend, acceding to reason, rolled back over and faced the wall, and passed back out–when he woke up some hours later, all that was left in his apartment was the kitchen table, and — placed thereupon, squarely in the middle — his passport.)

    So, as we looked down on the Sevastopol locals, they with their long, fair limbs, blonde hair, and green eyes, my Soviet-savvy new friend said: “They LOOK like us. But they don’t THINK like us.”

    And, I tell ya whut, even though I had myself by then encountered that truth firsthand and fairly forcefully, still, looking down at those euro-colored-and-proportioned faces, it was dang hard, dang hard, it took a real effort, to re-morph my mental-emotional models of the interior lives of those particular fellow humans, to perceive them as not suffused with close cultural fellow-feeling, not so close like French or Geman or Scandanavian, but as, emotionally and culturally, really “other”. It felt as though I was, with effort, shifting my mirror-neurons 37 degrees to starboard…

    Much like when, in the early 1980’s I was in a pizza parlor in Philly, and there was a group of four twelve-year olds playing with, banging away at, a pinball machine. Three of them were black kids, whatever, but the fourth of the knot was a white kid. And he was locute-ing with his chums in Philly ‘hood-black–what an incongruity, a shock.. Like hearing Eminem interviewed by Terry Gross the other day.

    Little lessons in human cultural mutability, highlighted contra pheno-geno expectation.

    Well, anyway, also interesting to see even Spain and Greece above USA in secular-rational proclivity…

    Turchin’s attempt at quantification seems a laudable project indeed and, having recently bought and read Ultrasociety, I will also assert that he is an engaging writer, and he’s not afraid to state his opinions plainly. He’s got fortitude that’s essential to good argument and conceptual advance!

  6. At one point or another, Gorbachev, Yeltsin, Putin and Medvedev all called for a Europe from Lisbon to Vladivostok (a play, perhaps, on DeGaulle’s Atlantic to Urals), which would have included Russian membership in both the EU and NATO. The US blocked this because it did not want a near peer in the councils of Europe, especially one that might be attractive to some EU and NATO members. So, there is some sympathy in Russia for being Europeans.

    On the other hand there is Olga Kurylenko, Ukrainian with distinct Asian admixture. She lives in France nowadays.

  7. Omar. Stalin killed the old Bolsheviks too. But, between the upheaval of the 1917-1928 era, the Holodomor of the early 30s, the Great Terror, and the Nazi invasion, just about every remnant of the old Russia of illiterate superstitious serfs was destroyed and recast by the Soviets.

    The baseline Chinese mentality of the Imperial era was always far more rationalist that the Russian.

  8. So, there is some sympathy in Russia for being Europeans.

    well, i alluded to the westernizer vs. slavophile debate that was prominent in 19th century though roots went to peter. but arguably it goes earlier than that. ivan the terrible alluded to his non-russian ancestry apparently (mother half serbian and half lipka tatar, but also western european ancestry on his father’s side i think).

  9. A. Furtiv Russell, have to deal with baby boomers always complimenting me on my english, so that’s the inverse. i’ll never really be american to them in their gut cuz i don’t look like what americans did when they were growing up (millennials no matter ideology never compliment me on my english, even liberal boomers do).

  10. i’ll never really be american to them in their gut cuz i don’t look like what americans did when they were growing up

    I don’t believe that it is correct to say that we will never consider you as an American. Most of the people that we met (if any) that look like you usually did speak with an accent. It is just a lag in updating one’s expectations. Further, speaking with an accent does not disqualify one from being an American.

  11. I don’t believe that it is correct to say that we will never consider you as an American. Most of the people that we met (if any) that look like you usually did speak with an accent. It is just a lag in updating one’s expectations. Further, speaking with an accent does not disqualify one from being an American.

    what i’m trying to get at is that a politically conservative millennial is less implicitly ‘confused’ by someone like me than a liberal white american (or black) born around 1950. of course explicitly/ideologically they understand i’m american and know it. but hanging around boomers there are always tells that it’s hard for them to push me out of the ‘exotic’ box.

    anyway, it’s a generality. but the generational difference is something i definitely notice.

  12. Yes Razib, listening to your podcast, I’d have to say that, for a guy from Baker City, Oregon, your English is pretty good! =]

  13. i spent a fair amount of time in baker. but i’m not from baker. in that part of eastern oregon class matters a lot in terms of how you speak (a lot of ‘oakies’ migrated to the wallowas).

    also, when i take dialect tests it situates my ‘major’ influence as northern CA and ‘minor’ as upstate NY. the latter is because i spent elementary years there and former is i lived there for a while as an adult, and western english is relatively undifferentiated except for word choice, and i’ve picked up a lot of norcal words.

  14. Just a minor nitpicking. …”groups of Slavs who settled among the native Pannonians” is not technically correct. Pannonians as a geographic term covers peoples living in Pannonia, area of old Roman province(s), while Slavic groups settled larger area, and both Croatian and Serbian medieval states developed south of the Pannonian Basin,in or around Dinaric Alps area (old Roman provinces of Dalmatia and Moesia Superior, with all the changes that went later on. Diocese of Pannonia, later Illiricum, did cover much of the territory we are talking about, but I have never heard Pannonians used in a way you did. Illirians is typical.) Breuci, for example, were Pannonians. Delmatae, Liburnians, Iapodes, Ardiaei… were not.

    On a side note, and I guess you already know that, a Bosnian can be a Croat, a Serb or a Bosniak (formerly, Muslim by nationality). The same is true of Herzegovinians.

  15. but I have never heard Pannonians used in a way you did. Illirians is typical

    i didn’t say illyrians because some of the ancestors of the serbo-croats were no doubt illyrian speaking, but many were clearly latin speaking too.

  16. re: boomers. went to a steakhouse with my father-in-law. the server was a cool guy, probably one of the oldest gen-X ppl (50ish?). he asked father-in-law why in town and said ‘visiting family.’ later the dude is like ‘and you visit your friends too!’ since i’m brown he didn’t realize father-in-law was including me in ‘family’ 🙂 or least that’s my interp.

  17. When I was younger and went out to eat with my in-laws, everyone – even in the rural Midwest – thought I was an American. The conversation sometimes went like this though:

    Stranger: He is your son, right?
    My father-in-law: No, he is my son-in-law.
    Stranger: Did you adopt him from Korea or China?
    My FIL: No, he’s not ours. He is married to my daughter over here. He is like a son to us though.
    Stranger: Oh, I see. Did his parents adopt him from Korea or China?
    Me: Sir, I was not adopted.
    Stranger: Oh… Are you mixed?
    Me: No, sir. I’m 100% Asian. I was born in Asia.
    Stranger: That’s very interesting.

    After some variations of this, we all decided that in the future, my FIL would just say, “Yes” when asked if I were his son. And that’s what he’s been doing for over 20 years. I have to say this kind of conversation has become much rarer of late.

  18. “i didn’t say illyrians because some of the ancestors of the serbo-croats were no doubt illyrian speaking, but many were clearly latin speaking too.” And you are right. However, when using Illyrian for the period of the late antiquity (similar for the earlier periods)it is basically a shorthand for something along the lines – more or less Romanized peoples living roughly in the western Balkans area where once Illyrian peoples/tribe lived, some of which might not had originally, or at all, been Illyrian, while the others had been, or might have been, more or less Celticized before the Roman conquest, why didn’t they develop or adapt writing, dammit – (catching breath). The term Illyrian emperors follows the same logic. Pannonians covers just too small, and for the early history of Croats and Serbs (or at least for the early states creations), mostly wrong area.

    Spoken Latin in a few costal cities and northern islands survived and developed into Dalmatian language. Most dialects disappeared during the middle ages, under pressure of Venetian and Croatian (Chakavian for the most area, Shtokavian for the southernmost dialects), but on the island of Krk the last speaker died in 1898.

  19. Unfortunately, data visualizations can have the same problems as simple bull-crapping can: you need to have a fairly good understanding of the data being compiled in order to really assess whether or not the visualization itself is bull-crap.

    That and a good understanding of how visualizations can manipulate the data beneath them.

  20. Continuing on Romanized population… Istriot still survives in parts of Istria. Whether Vlachs in western Balkans were originally speaking a Romance language or were just Slavic speaking pastorals, and when or if that change happened is debated, while still existing Istro-Romanians are probably result of a later migration. Don’t know enough about these topics to give you more than basic info.

  21. “while still existing Istro-Romanians are probably result of a later migration”
    Based on linguistic evidence they look very much as a later migration (after 1000 AD). The language is much more similar to standard Romanian the Aromanian and Romanian (after removing the huge Croatian influence on Istro-Romanian). Additionally there are some sound changes that they share with the northern most dialects of Romanian.

    Aromanians (Vlachs) are also very likely a later migration in most of the western Balkans, which is the reason the mostly disappeared from that region with the name meaning now in Bosnia&Croatia just an orthodox Slavic speaker.

    Dalmatian and the “Romanian” languages are not that close, based on the existing evidence. There is a closer connection between Southern Italian languages and Romanian than Dalmatian and Romanian.

  22. It is possible there are parts of Croatia where Vlach still means an orthodox person, i.e. a pejorative name for Serbs. Don’t really know. However, the most common usage by far, in a form Vlaj and mostly used in coastal Dalmatia, is for people living in, or originally from, Dalmatian Hinterland (mostly Croats). The connotations it has would make the closest English translations a hillbilly or a redneck.

  23. linda, andrew noticed the tabloid comments on the paper. his objections were fair.

    otoh a lot of his commenters don’t know the science/data too well and it shows. SESHAT is trying to address some of the biases they point out….

  24. Nice chart. I thought I’d test the notion of an “Atlantic Europe” against it.

    (this is the idea that Portugal to Norway has been a trading and cultural polity since Neolithic times)

    Trying to draw an area encompassing Norway and Portugal in Europe resulted in an unsatisfying thin snaky ribbon like a Gerrymander. But then I noticed almost everything to the right of it was a European colony, almost all on the other shore of the Atlantic. Recasting it as “Atlantic Europe and its colonies” resulted in a much more satisfying broad patch.

    I like Walter’s suggestion of flipping the diagram to form a schematic map of east and west.

  25. The idea of “Mare Nostrum”, a cultural polity of the Southern European shore of the Mediterranean and its North African and Middle Eastern shores, is less successful: Spain, France, Italy and Greece are far from Morocco, Algeria, Egypt, and Jordan. Is that because of the muslim conquests of the 7th and 8th centuries? And yet the latter are so close to the rest of Africa.

  26. Though, central contrast between PCA on genotype data and PCA on cultural data is of course that genotypes are random, neutral locii, so the representation actually represents neutral population history (to some degree), and questions of ascertainment are much more minimal.

    PCA on cultural data are really more like PCA on overall phenotype – almost plagued by questions of how you know you’ve accounted for all variables, and subjectivity on how you code and weight variables. Particularly re: Inglehart, do we really believe a prime cultural distinction is between Russia and Western Europe, for’ex, and a Confucian sphere is intermediate? I probably don’t believe that’s the real natural jointing of human national cultures – it’s really measuring what a particular North American and German political scientist selected as primary cultural distinctions. India is not really culturally close to Spain and Estonia is not really culturally close to Taiwan and Kazakhstan does not really overlap Lebanon (

    Also the question of what we are trying to talk about. PCA on genotype data tell us about the current structure… but we don’t have any illusions they tell us anything about how all possible structures of homo sapiens genotype structure could have played out. Similar re: culture (can it really tell us that all societies of a particular scale would exhibit particular features?). You’re limited by your dataset, where most data for large scale societies in a particular band of Eurasia, within one iteration of world history.

    Re: Seshat cultural complexity, I guess its a useful finding, I would kind of ask how surprising is the universal correlation between their 9 variables? How can you have “Information Systems” not scale with “Government” and its bureaucracy facets (legal code, exam system, bureaucrats, court)? How could “Money” or “Texts” not scale with “Information Systems”, or “Hierarchy” with “Government”? Still it does tell us that if were expecting societies to exist with very large presence of sophistication in money or texts, yet very absent hierarchy, these have tended not to exist in their dataset…

    As well, definitely consider the kind of societies under discussion; a single variable probably does not explain differences between the polycentric Early Modern state system in Europe vs the unipolar Chinese system, but seems more useful for distinguishing these societies against much smaller societies.

    (Similar to scaling questions on “war group size” tackled here:

  27. I don’t have much of a problem seeing some East Asian data points appearing between two patches of European ones. I can easily believe the confusion might be resolved in a third principal component, but we all like neat two-dimensional pictorial displays (look at the two dimensional political schemes that are always being touted, when it’s obvious that there are as many dimensions to politics as there are political questions)

    I do dislike the apparently random decision to split some countries and not others. Why Eastern and Western Germany, when the payoff is so meagre (a little difference on the chart)? Why split the United Kingdom into Great Britain and Northern Ireland, when the only insight it gives is that NI is midway between GB and Ireland, and a little more survival oriented? Not a surprise!

    Not so much that I’m against such granularity, but that “India” and “China” are single data points. I would guess if you split India at least into North and South, the north would be closer to Pakistan and Bangladesh, and the south by arithmetic necessity would split in the opposite direction, toward Bosnia on the chart.

    Apologies to ohwilleke, who was the one who suggested flipping the self-expression/survival axis.

  28. @jim, agree higher order PC could show more structure. Not sure how much (if any, of that response was aimed at my comment, if any) but main thing I’m trying to express is that in Inglehart’s map, you don’t get out more than you get in; you can see the values questions asked and where they plot

    If they had loaded questions less on Christian/Islamic religiosity and more on Hindu / Buddhist religiosity, I’d bet some countries would’ve changed position, for’ex (Is India really more “secular rational” than the Latin American world?), and for’ex the USA would look more similar to more post-religious Northern Europe and the ex-Communist countries with their enforced public atheism (as Christian / post-Christian would have less power). You get out what you put in.

    (For example, use Hofstede’s 6 cultural dimensions, which lack religious content, and you get something more like this on the first two PC:

    As well, I’m not so sure it’s even a good model to think of these as offering two axes, rather than that there are “zones” of focus on the chart, and the closer you get to one, the further you are from another. (Higher order PCs no doubt shifting countries in a less zero sum way). See – for some labelling which may make clearer what I mean.

    Like, it’s not the case that the X axis describes an axis where every country with the same position has the same level of life satisfaction; rather life satisfaction along a vector from the centre along the x=0.8, y=-0.2 point and then falls off in any direction away from that, whether it’s “north” up the y-axis (towards Sweden) or “southwest” (towards Puero Rico). (Which tends to fit with extremely high life satisfaction for GDP for the Latin countries – /–gross-domestic-product-le-secret.jpg). “Trust science” maximises along a vector at x=-0.6, y=-0.2 and “More emphasis on technology” along x=-0.8, y=-0.2 (both in the “traditional” and “survival” quadrant of the plot).

  29. Definitely struggling with the x axis, here. Partly, because “Survival Values” have a high overlap with “Traditional Values”, so the x axis is related to the y axis. And, partly, because “Self Expression Values” seems like a poor descriptor of what seems to me to be closer to “unambitious, open, and friendly” – a term that could describe your average surfer dude, which may or may not be your picture of a socially advanced culture.

    Reading the Wikipedia article, it appears that “self expression values” combine five things: 1) prioritizing “quality of life” over standard of living (i.e., unambitious) 2) at least partial acceptance of homosexuality (open, friendly) 3) willingness to sign a petition (open, friendly) 4) willingness to trust people (open, friendly) and 5) describes self as ‘very happy’ (unambitious).

    On the other end, “Survival Values” combine traditional views of gender and family, with ambition (preference for higher incomes, dissatisfaction with current level of success) and socialism (‘respondent is relatively favorable to state ownership of business and industry’). I struggle to even picture what a culturally traditional, economically ambitious, socialist looks like…

    So, while I accept that the analysis finds this is an axis, I question the inputs that lead to such a result.


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