Tag Archive | utilitarianism

Why Dog Lived and 2-Year-Old Girl Died

Before reading anything, please watch and contrast these two videos:

As you can probably expect from the videos, the injured dog lived, and the 2-year-old girl died on October 21st, 2011.

Enough has been written about the Chinese incident online. The WSJ reported that Chinese observers and journalists have blamed the apparent apathy on “everything from the trauma of the Cultural Revolution to fear of legal action to Chinese culture itself.”

In observing Chinese culture, James McGregor, former CEO of Dow Jones & Company China and one of GCC’s Senior Advisors, gives a revealing explanation in his book, One Billion Customers:

Firm control from the top has always been considered the only path to peace and prosperity in China. One reason is that China is a shame-based society, very different from the guilt-based West. In the West, with society’s religious orientation, many controls are internalized. Guilt, which is ultimately the fear of sin and eternal damnation, puts a check on bad behavior. In China, it is the fear of exposure and the accompany shame that tarnishes the entire extended family. As a result, the Chinese can feel pretty good about doing almost anything as long as they don’t get caught. In that atmosphere, the only efficient form of law and order is a strong and omnipresent government that increases the likelihood of getting caught if you do something wrong.

- One Billion Customers (McGregor, 2005)

If we borrow McGregor’s frame and project it onto a gross generalization of the whole Chinese population and all of their possible actions, it is a scary thought that people aren’t killing each other and stealing each other’s money only because they don’t want to be caught doing so.

An equally depressing blogger concluded that “China seems to have become so utilitarian that it can’t understand or even tolerate people who do things for altruistic reasons” (emphasis added).

But even with an ultra-utilitarian system, not everyone’s sociopathic or else we wouldn’t have the society we have today. Altruism isn’t nonexistent in China, and utilitarianism isn’t the main problem. The Chinese may be overtly obsessed with money and wealth, but even that doesn’t warrant the actions witnessed in the first video.

The problem, in my opinion, is trust. And there is none.

Chinese cities are infiltrated with deceptive and malicious schemes aimed straight at your wallet: phone calls, texts, and even strangers calling for “help.” This accompanied by the media whose job is to sell these stories that keep people on their feet. Take a look at Baidu’s Top Ten search items daily and you’ll learn what catches the Chinese people’s attention – not how to make money (surprise!), but what to watch-out for in China: poisonous food & beverages, corrupt government officials, ineffective legal system, natural disasters, prostitution, even random stranger stealing your new-born child from the hospital. Scared? Me too.

There are few Good Samaritans in China not because people have no faith or belief or have lost their souls, but because the Good Samaritans have either been tricked in the past or have heard too many horror stories to maintain their confidence in strangers.

The basic rule to survival, as anyone who has traveled the country would quickly learn, is to not trust anyone. People are constantly living in an environment where they feel unsafe. It didn’t need to be a 2-year-old girl; it could’ve been a full-grown adult lying there. People would need to start gathering around him, starring from a distance, muttering conjectures in each other’s ears; finally, when enough people have gathered around to make it feel “safe,” when it feels like there are enough witnesses and no one is going to hold you responsible for what has happened, someone might jump in and do the right thing – help. That’s typically what you’d see if someone is dying on the streets in China. Populated streets with many pedestrians.

In China, you can expect help from a friend, a colleague, a distant relative, or anyone that has the slightest knowledge of who you are or who you might be. But don’t expect the help of a stranger.

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