A favourite occasional TiB
topic is historical forces that end up having very long run effects. Tanner Greer pointed
to an interesting example last week: the impact of political violence during the Cultural Revolution
on attitudes and behaviours in China fifty years later. This new paper by Yuhua Wang
shows that people in areas that suffered greater violence during the Cultural Revolution - even those who weren’t born at the time - are both less trusting of and
more obedient to the state today.
It’s interesting to speculate on just how enduring effects like these are. One of my favourite papers of last year - discussed here
- was Joe Henrich et al’s piece
that argued that Catholic Church family policy shaped Western psychology over periods of centuries. Similarly, Tanner Greer, in his commentary
on Wang’s paper, points to this study that suggests that political repression in 17th and 18th century China appears to have permanently
damaged social capital in the affected areas.
The impact of the Cultural Revolution may be more shorter lived - Wang shows that the effect diminishes over generations - but he speculates that there’s a dilemma for authoritarian governments: you can buy obedience at the cost of stoking long run resentment, which can come back to haunt you. I worry this is too optimistic a take. Perhaps “low trust, high obedience” is actually the norm in history; revolutions is much rarer than repression, alas.