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In a role play, Socrates scrutinizes Carl Woese’ work

A plausible and defensible evidence of a new branch of life?

Head of Socrates in Palazzo Massimo alle Terme (Rome)

By Livioandronico2013 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D,via Wikimedia Commons

Critical free-thinking, constantly calling into question whatever prevalent truth a society holds, and the method of questioning a person’s knowledge until evoking in him „aporia,” a state in which he realizes that he actually knows nothing, are the key ingredients of probing alleged knowledge. Unless an eloquent Sophist is led beyond aporia, so that he must provide evidence, we are well-advised not to accept his so-called knowledge. Since we ourselves, using this method, are being considered a threat to a dogmatic society, the groundbreaking but shunned work of Woese and Fox, convincingly establishing a tripartite tree of life, piques our special interest. After all, we realize that if probed by us, they would not end up in aporia. Why is that?

First, Woese evokes aporia in himself. The evidence for the established dichotomy prokaryotes-eukaryotes appears too weak to him, not being based on evidence. This led him to challenge the model by transcending aporia, resorting to knowledge about ribosomal RNA, brought about by scientific method. Scientific inquiry reveals knowledge about what is unknown, returns to the object of research, and is hence the remedy for that state. By investigating the 16S rRNA molecule, present in every organism and a precise long-term clock, Woese harnesses facts rather than purported knowledge. Analogy reveals anomaly. Therefore, by finding RNA pieces in the genetic fingerprints in single-cell organism classified so far as prokaryotes, but absent in all others, a potential third domain emerges. Sophists may be content with this, but, unlike those, Woese and Fox provide evidence. Organisms with such similar genetic fingerprint are of the same unprecedented phenotype of ethane-producing anaerobes. Attempting to induce aporia by asking why these organisms constitute a new and distinct domain, they give a logical answer. In their genetic fingerprint, those organisms are equidistant from both the bacteria and the eukaryotes. Answering another probing question whether those organisms might have evolved from those established domains, they give logical evidence. Earth and life co-evolve, and their being well-equipped for the Archean epoch, those organisms existed along with prokaryotes and eukaryotes.

Should evolutionary relatedness be based on external visible features?

Not only these results let us rely on internal genetic composition rather than morphology when building a phylogeny. How can one judge from mere morphology if independently developed recipes can bring about striking similarities in a dish? Like such two soups  can have the same spiciness, distinctly evolved plants can possess the same number of stamens. How the former approach can be misleading is confirmed by Woese’ and Fox’ research: „The methanogens Woese and Fox had analyzed looked superficially like other bacteria, yet their RNA told a different story, sharing more in common with nucleus-containing eukaryotes than with other bacteria.“ We prefer to determine phylogeny by looking at the recipe, not by tasting the soup.

Phylogenetic tree

How come the results of Woese’s molecular phylogeny were slow to be accepted by the scientific community?

Trying to answer the question why Woese’ theory has been shunned for so long, we may draw a parallel. Like ourselves, Woese is seen as a cranky outsider, presenting an idea threatening an established belief and offending humankind: eukaryotes, to which homo sapiens belong, are no longer at the top of the evolutionary ladder. Instead, they are beging demoted to share a rung with microbes – small wonder some people were reluctant to embrace the new concept.

Unlike ourselves, Woese is reticent and reclusive in nature, shying away from public discussions which might have helped promoting his theory. After all, science needs to be communicated and discussed; instead, Woese signals being at a loss, being in aporia, by hiding in his office.

Furthermore, molecular phylogeny was not fully established. Genetic code could not easily be deciphered, hence the notion of the genome as the recipe for an organism was not ubiquitous. Only with growing computing power, once a genome was sequenced, Woese’s opponents could no longer dismiss genetics as evidential tool.

Only after the mainstream moves forward and comes to a point where scientific ideas ahead of their time become ubiquitously proven and widely embraced, it realizes and revives the ground-breaking importance of those contributions. Evidence wins when the majority of the scientific community is eventually able to recognize it by itself.

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We know that the orbit of the Earth around the Sun is not a perfect circle, but instead, quite elliptical, not to say “eccentric”. But how eccenctrically would the Earth travel around the Sun if the Sun’s gravitional field were an inversely exponential gravity field, a so-called Yukawa potential, meaning the potential engergy of a body  with mass m at a  distance R from  another body with mass M follows this equation:

Epot = -k/R * e -R/a

(with k = G*M*m and G as the Gravitational Constant and a determining the slope of the decay of the potential energy towards larger distances which we assume here as 1.5* 10^15 m which means at its actual distance from the Sun the Earh would have a potential energy 0.999900005 of its actual potential energy – not much of a difference really)

instead of the good old and familiarily inversely linear Newtonian one

Epot = -k/R ?

Well, now, who are we to claim that a perfectly linear gravitional field is the only one possible, like a God-given fixed rule, just because it is so convenient and easy to calculate with? No, we are not that smug.

A not really shocking or Earth-shattering answer to this question is provided fully mathematically and in theory here – but, mind you, it is not a bedtime story for Joe the plummer. But if are sufficiently nerdy you might give it a shot and have fun if you can, always in the save assurance that the Earth would not be flung away into space:

Eccentricity of the Earth’s orbit in a hypothetical Yukawa potential

In order to give some background information why this paper seems very difficutl to understand and to make head or tails of: It is a solution of an optional (ungraded) problem set in the Coursera MOOC ‘From Big Bang to Dark Energy’ which simply assumes that the question is fresh in the mind of the reader and the used equations and entities are equally familiar. Hence, the paper might appear all Greek to the reader who is not familiar with the task this paper solves – and those are practically all readers who come here. So my apologies for the hardship. Íf I have enough time I going to revamp the paper so that it becomes understandable more easily for the general audience (still, an audience sufficiently familiar with the physics and the mathematics. That I cannot avoid).

https://www.coursera.org/course/bigbang

Flaubert-Giraud

Portrait of Flaubert, circa 1856, by Eugène Giraud

We can assume that historical progress, its driving force or its supposed goal, play an crucial role in the work of  those philosophers and artists whose thoughts revolves around societial advance – in the case of Karl Marx- or for those whose art reflects society, like that of Gustave Flaubert.

In Marx’s work, historical progress has always plaid a pivotal role. The early Marx saw history driven by dialectical progress: History has always advanced only because societal contradictions had caused tensions and has given rise to revolutionary discharge, spawning new states. “The history of all hitherto existing societies in history is class struggles“ (1). „Freeman and slave, patrician and plebeian, lord and serf, guild-master and journeyman … stood in constant opposition to one another, carried on … a fight that each time ended in a revolutionary re-constitution of society at large“. (2)

The early Marx referred to Hegel’s dialectic. Contradictory states, he denotes as thesis and antithesis cause tensions, and both form a synthesis, a new and better state, in which contradiction merge. In Hegel’s view, history happens on its own accord, and humankind part is to look passively upon history and discern a beautiful truth hidden behind it. Marx rejected the passive part of humankind. For him, humans role was to accelerate history, predominantly by revolutions. The Communist Manifesto emphasizes this a score of times. (3). Marx saw historical progress optimistically.

History in Flaubert’s work has not a pure dialectical character. Contradictions play a role, but they do not end up in a synthesis, let alone a good one. They only lead to catastrophes. Flaubert depicts in his clashes of opposed movements in so far as it is an unembellished mirroring of reality. In „Madam Bovary“, the clash of Romanticism, its idealization of relationships with the reality of life renders the heroine incapable of coping with life. Rousseaus ideal of the natural state of man exposed to society. epitomized in „bovine“ Charles Bovary is bound to fail in an age of Enlightenment. Instead, the Enlightenment – unjust, shrewd but stupid, hypocritical – symbolized by the pharmacist Homais prevails. Historical progress turns out to be far less beautiful and does not advance society in the positive way it was promised. It is ugly. stupid and a lie.

If the plot of Madam Bovary is an indication of Flaubert’s perception of history, it also appeared to him in large parts as dull repetitions. His use of the past imperfect („Charles would return home; he would go out; later, he would have some broth“. (4)) represents habit and repetition, always boding something ill. The dullness is only interrupted by the apperances of stupity (Emma’s actions), hypocrisy (the agricultural fair) and cruelty (Rudolphe).

Karl Marx

Karl Marx, 1875, by John Jabez Edwin Mayall

Flauberts novel shows his absolute disillusionment with history without any hope for progress, let alone for a redemptive final state. This lead him to seeing art as the only remedy: reflect the world perfectly (he spent five years writing ‘Madam Bovary, weighing every word and sentence), all-knowingly and detached (he used the third-person and indirect address frequently), and as it really is. (5) (6). If you encounter history’s ugliness with perfect form, its stupidity with God-like omniscience, its hypocrisy with bluntness, you can rescue yourself from moral corruption. That is Flauberts reaction to dillusionment with history.

Disillusionment with history can be found in early Marx as well. In the Manifesto he already showed a notion of it, expounding how the Bourgeoisie unveils illusions. „The bourgeoisie … has put an end to all … idyllic relations. It has left remaining … naked self-interest … in one word, for exploitation, veiled by religious and political illusions, naked, shameless, direct, brutal exploitation.“ (7)

The later Marx turned away from dialectical historical progress towards economics. There is good reason to assume that disillusionment with history plaid an important role. First, Marx experienced his own disillusionment, noticing that the revolutions of the 19th century did not yield the expected changes (“the peasants wanted land, the workers wanted  wages and jobs, the middle-class wanted power and money” (8)), indicating that class struggles towards equality might  not have been the ‘really real’ of history. Second, in the ‘Manifesto’ he discovered disillusionment in history (“The bourgeoisie has stripped of its halo every occupation hitherto honoured and looked up to with reverent awe.” (9))  towards a burgeoning realization that economics might propel history: “The need of a constantly expanding market for its products chases the bourgeoisie over the whole surface of the globe .. The bourgeoisie, by the rapid improvement of all instrument of production … draw all … nations into civilization.” (10). Being dissillusioned, he discovered economics as the actual motor behind historical progress.

Disillusionment in and with history was THE siginificant influence on both Marx and Flaubert. It molded the late philosophy of the one and the art of the other. It lead the philosopher to reconsider it in order to discover the truth and the artist to withdraw from it for good.

Klemens Großmann, June 2013

1) 2) 3) 7) 9) 10) Marx, Engels: The Communist Manifesto,

4) 5) Flaubert: Madam Bovary

6) Flaubert’s letters to Louise Colet

8) Lectures “From Enlightenment to Revolution”, Part 5

9 termidoro

9 Termidoro at the National Convention, by Scuola Frances

“If the mainspring of popular government in peacetime is virtue, amid revolution it is at once virtue and terror: virtue, without which terror is fatal; terror, without which virtue is impotent.”

– Robespierre to the Convention on 5. February 1794 –

 

 

Robespierre’s address, representing a brief period, might be taken as an expression what the French Revolution encompasses at its most radical moment: a redefinition of ethics. There is hardly anything more revolutionary. In the interpretation of some historians [1], the Terror is even considered characteristic of the whole event. However, it does injustice to the versatility of the process and its reverberations. Yet, it raises awareness to the question how revolutionary the French Revolution was.

If we were content with the stage of the National Convent under the Jacobins as the gist of the French Revolution, we could indeed, albeit prematurely, argue that it was revolutionary by ridding France of the acien regime, even though not for the benefit of a ruling Bourgeoisie – the Jacobin’s alliance with the sans-culottes and their welfare policy [2] can hardly be seen as bourgeoisie key interests. The dynamics which began in 1789 surely were not dead and done with after Robespierre’s demise. Instead, it created a melting pot for various movements, experiments and first origins, reverberating into the present. Hence, when investigating the question what replaced absolute monarchy, we venture a look into its most significant consequences for the various key social groups.

Prior to the revolution, the nobility had featured themselves by three hallmarks: venal offices, exemption from taxation and feudal landownership. However, these were privileges of societal status, not of economical power [3]. With the shift of the basis of privilege away from birth towards talent and merit, the deprivation of feudal landownership and introduction of state taxation, the pillars of their natural privileges crumbled. Becoming landlords instead of seigneurs, the Nobility’s wealth grew dependent on the incomes of the peasantry. They either had to engage in Bourgeoisie economy, running estates as a business, or distinguish themselves by representative status [4]. The formerly reign of he Second Estate had become less a natural matter of course, but of economical power.

Related to that redistribution of land for the benefit of commoners [5], the life of rural populace was transforming. Whereas their daily lifes maintained a great deal of continuity, both their sensed and factual identity as a occupational stand transformed significantly. By becoming tenants or owners of land, the peasantry experienced an upgrade of self-esteem. Moreover, with market liberation and a national unification of currency and units, they, even though inadvertently, came under the paradigm of economical efficiency. Hence, they were inching towards being entrepreneurs rather than serfs, responsible for their own economical sustenance. Here, we may find the first wellspring of the feeling of freedom and pride farmers in the 19th century felt, spreading to the West frontiers of the United States.

The urban workers, with their alliance with the Jacobins, and their reputation of having saved the revolution [6], may have felt, for the first time, being a political power. By bolstering their self-esteem, their self-conception as a political group awakened. However, their gain was a blanket too small to warm the whole body. While they were granted equality before the law, with the system being reshaped into a market-oriented economy under new owners of the means of production [7], they came under the exploitation of a Nobles-Bourgeoisie economy. Together with social welfare put on the back burner until the latter half of the nineteenth century [8], the mixture of having political clout with still being a disadvantaged group, turned the working class into an entity for later socialist theories and experiments.

While the high clergy, by abolition of divine monarchy, land expropriation and religious freedom, had lost in political, economical and spiritual power, the consequences for common priests were less dramatic. Small parish priests had been relatively poor before the revolution, in particular in the Southeast, and were regarded by the rural commoners as their ilk, dispatched as deputies with cahiers to the Estates-General [9]. With tithes abolished, their income came from state salaries, connecting them with the populace. Religiosity, even though oppressed during the reign of Robespierre, was not smothered for long, and coexisted alongside a national identity. Hence, the priests’ role shifted towards satisfying the spiritual needs of their flock, rather than alleviate physical hardship. However, with the Church losing political power, the may have benefited from dissolving of associations with clerical oppression [10].

Women's March on Versailles01

Women’s March on Versailles, 5-6 october 1789.

For most of the slaves around the globe, the French Revolution appeared to have, for another half century, limited consequences. The abolition of slavery at Saint-Domingue in 1875, a consequence of the slave uprising as an attempt of the Convention to regain control, can predominantly be counted as an act of political necessity, even though many members had a stance opposing slavery. The abolition of it in the Unites States may have had an intellectual link to the pride the Convent took in being the first to have done it [11]. The merit of the French Revolution for the majority of slaves worldwide was, for the time being, a symbolic triumph.

Like workers, women had shown clout in 1789 by marching to Versailles. Albeit at times they assumed the role of the fist, their male co-revolutionaries imposed a passive role on them, that of moral support [12]. In a time in which women were exempt from education, they may be seen as fist and heart, but never as the brain of the revolution – and the revolution was underpinned by ideas. Hence, on the intellectual dimension of political influence, they ended up even less benefiting than the workes, who at least become considered a political entity. In the active dimension of political influence, one might argue that, with their newly granted right to inherit property as a consequence of the abolition primogeniture, women gained participation. However, emancipation in private property is confined to private matters, and therefore, has limited direct consequences in terms of political clout. Hence, by effectively still being kept out of active political participation, the disadvantaged role of women was maintained. Peter McPhee speaks of a ‘subordinate political position’. [13]

Judged by the daily lifes of those groups, it is a tranquil dimension to gauge changes of revolutionary magnitude. From a minimalistic perspective, with workers and women still being under oppression, the peasantry liberated but still toiling away, priests retaining spiritual importance and slaves still in bondage until 1848, it seems that predominantly an exchange at the top layer took place. But that’s myopic; dramatic changes in daily life are spawned by new technologies, less by political changes. Instead, there was a profound change in the legitimization for the ruling of the new elite. Absolute rule by divine grace, formerly awarded by the First Estate, was replaced by right per common and rational consent. Governing by nationalized rationality needs respecting and persuading those governed. Hence, as the most profound change, was a new sense of identity in every citizen based on nationality and the creation of self-esteem in the individual.

Klemens Großmann, September 2015

References

[1] DW, Locations 1434 ,1439 ,1447
Jean Jaurès, Albert Soboul, Albert Mathiez

[2] MCP, Locations 1472-1474
Jacobins saw things differently. ‘In a single instant you can give the French people a real homeland’, promised St-Just, ‘by halting the ravages of inflation, assuring the supply of food, and intimately linking their welfare and their freedom’.

[3] DW, Locations 1011-1012
Feudal rights were not always very lucrative, and their incidence varied enormously. But there was no doubt of their vast symbolic significance

[4] MCP, Locations 2304-2305
The nobility would fuse with the wealthiest echelons of the propertied bourgeoisie into a ruling elite of ‘notables’ which dominated French politics until the 1870s.

[5] MCP, Locations 2273-2274
many small peasants benefited from the sale of émigré property in small lots after 1792.

[6] DW, Locations 1243-1244
The people of Paris had saved the National Assembly on 14 July, and perhaps in October 1789 as well.

[7] MCP, Locations 2247
French Revolution laid the groundwork for the unleashing of market-oriented agriculture and capitalist manufacturing.

[8] MCP, Locations 2360-2361
No doubt, for the sans-culottes the end of the Revolution left a sense of disappointment and failure. Only between 1848 and World War I were democracy, social welfare, workers associations and rights to education again secured.

[9] MCP, Kindle Locations 982-983
The parish priests were held in high esteem, not least because so many of their deputies had sided with the Third Estate in 1789.

[10] MCP, Locations 2227-2228
Religious toleration was one way in which the Catholic Church could never enjoy pre-revolutionary levels of obedience and monopoly of morality.

[11] MCP, Locations 1229-1230
The deputies congratulated themselves on being the first rulers ever to abolish slavery – which they were, but only through recognizing a fait accompli.

[12] MCP, Locations 2160-2161
Similarly, the protective Virgin Mary of Old Regime imagery gave way to the Marianne of the Republic, now in classical garb and liberty cap, but still a feminine allegory watching protectively over men.

[13] MCP, Location 2163

Bibliography

DW Doyle, William (2001-08-23), The French Revolution: A Very Short Introduction, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition.

MCP McPhee, Peter (2015-06-02), The French Revolution, Melbourne University Publishing, Kindle Edition.

In the „Dialectic of Enlightenment“, against the background of Nazi-Germany, Horkheimer and Adorno attempt to develop a genealogy of totalitarian systems in general. In a process they see continued and reinforced by the Enlightenment, they discover an emergence of totalitarian thinking. Critically reflecting on what enlightened thinking entails, a thinking which is the foundation of the society in which they lived, they appear anti-foundational. Nietzsche, considered an anti-foundationalist, is crucial for thinkers of Social Theory. Indeed, both were thorough readers of Nietzsche.

Horkheimer and Adorno predate the process of enlightenment long before Kant. They discover as its basic drive the ancient struggle for self-preservation in so far as „human beings have always had to choose between their subjugation to nature and its subjugation to the self.“ [1]. Together with the fear of nature – that „noonday panic fear in which nature suddenly appeared to humans as an all-encompassing power“ [1] – it results in an attempt to liberate oneself by trying to understand nature. They see this attempt Kant-like as „the doubling of nature into appearance and essence, effect and force“ [1], which had already been taken place in the epoch of myths: it is „ made possible by myth no less than by science“ [1].

According to Adorno/Horkheimer, in that epoch, in which human traits were projected onto gods, the subject (human as investigator) and the object (nature) were not yet separated. Humans could not yet oppress human nature. They agree with Nietzsche, who sees natural instincts as “human, all-too-human” [2] traits (for the last time) embraced in Greek mythology: “this … is revealed by the merest glance at the Greek gods, those reflections of noble and self-controlled man, in whom the animal in man felt himself deified” [2]. But whereas Nietzsche only goes so far as to present mythology as life-affirmative, for Horkheimer/Adorno it constitutes humankind’s early attempt to make the world predictable (“Myth sought to report, to name, to tell of origins … therefore also to narrate, record, explain“ [1]), and controllable (“Each ritual contains a representation … of the specific process which is to be influenced by magic.“ [1]).

With the Enlightenment humankind has the tools, and the fear of unknown nature starts to debunk the myths: „Humans believe themselves free of fear when there is no longer anything unknown. This has determined the path of demythologization, of enlightenment“ [1]. Now being able to deprive the gods of their power, human’s unleashed urge for domination takes over the process: “Ruthless toward itself, the Enlightenment has eradicated the last remnant of its own self-awareness. Only thought which does violence to itself is hard enough to shatter myths.” [1]

According to Nietzsche, humans developed the ability of generalizing objects into quantities and calculating via the “principle of equivalence” long before the Enlightenment, Those capabilities have their origin in humans prehistoric relationships to each other as „creditor and debtor“. Nietzsche supposes that from those faculties originates human’s superior feeling towards the animal kingdom: man as the “measuring animal”, equivalent to consciousness. Thinking has become calculating before the Enlightenment, and it possesses the potential for domination.

For Horkheimer/Adorno, these faculties – equating and calculating-  play an important in the progress of Enlightenment. The Bourgeois uses them for their predominance: „Bourgeois society is ruled by equivalence. It makes dissimilar things comparable by reducing them to abstract quantities” [1].  Furthermore, “for the Enlightenment, anything which cannot be resolved into numbers, and ultimately into one, is illusion“ [1]. Put differently: qualities become illusions, because illusions are not to be dominated. Expelling the indomitable gives the illusion of total dominance. Enlightened thinking, under the spell of domination, cannot recognize this illusion: it becomes a totalitarian myth.

Domination strives to transform the object into generalized quantities – but generalization goes at the expense of the individuality of the single case. Humans have individual qualities; they do not fit easily into the general mold. Their self has to be reduced to unified entities, by social coercion if necessary: „because that self never quite fitted the mold, enlightenment … has always sympathized with social coercion. The unity of the manipulated collective consists in the negation of each individual“ [1].  Totalitarianism can spread to the social realm.

With science and mathematics, generalization and calculation, Enlightenment possesses the tools of domination. Transferring those tools also to society and law, Enlightenment experiences a regress to an all-encompassing driving force: progress is subjected to the primitive force of domination. Enlightenment, according to H/A reducing and coercing humans and society into calculable, controllable entities, driven by the inexorable “will-to-power”, inevitably ends up in that dialectical state Horkheimer/Adorno diagnose: in two inseparable, parallel processes of liberation over nature as progressive process and violence against human nature as regression. Nietzsche states why separation from animal nature is pernicious: it causes self-inflicted suffering; “man’s suffering from man, from himself, this is a result of a violent separation from his animal past”. [2]

Both Nietzsche and Horkheimer/Adorno diagnose negative, oppressing forces in the progress of Enlightenment. Whereas for the first, the process merely entails an unhealthy state for the individual and society, the latter discover in it a precarious product: enlightened thinking, able to subsume everything under its paradigm, gives rise to totalitarian thinking and becomes a myth it is unable to debunk by itself.

(1) Horkheimer/Adorno: Dialectic of Enlightenment

(2) Nietzsche, Genealogy of Morals

Applied concepts of Intercultural Communication in the context of corporate discourse

Moscow collage

By User:Russavia [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

La Plage digitale 2

By Pierre Rudloff (Own work) [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How can Russian culture be taken into account in a corporate discourse context?

From the perspective of a Western European, having come into contact with Russian colleagues in an international technology context, I am going to single out three scales of the Cultural Orientation Model (COM) [1], on which I have seen significant cultural gaps between Russian and Western European preferences as explicated by the lectures and the readings of the MOOC Understanding Russians: Contexts of Intercultural Communication. The focus is on inclinations rather than norms, which makes these observation more subjective, as the Cultural Orientation Identificator also identifies inclinations rather than norms. Among each of these three dimensions, one scale is going to be singled out, and a way how to overcome them in the discourse community ‘workplace’ is proposed.

  1. Sense of Self: Collective/Individualistic scale – here referred to the we(+)-them(-) concept
  2. Thinking Style : Past/Future orientation
  3. Interaction Style : Particularistic/Universalistic scale

1. A substantial cultural gap pertains to the realm of Basic World Values, that is, to the Russian inclination of making a judgmental distinction [2] between “Us” (good) and “Them” (bad). This might constitute a substantial obstacle because it does not exist in such an overt manifestation in European culture, and can therefore be easily misconstrued. One would put this onto the COI scale ‘Collective/Individualistic’, because Russian collectivism in face of a dangerous outside world is the historical cause for this dichotomy. Furthermore, a self, centered in individualism, is much less inclined to see an outside group as dangerous. Hence, referring to ‘Schwartz Theory of Basic Values’ [3], one tends to put this dichotomy into the category of “Conversation”, somewhere located above the adjacent dimensions “Conformity” and “Security”. Security is achieved by in-group conformity. Hence, to overcome this special gap, one has to provide security by alternative means, or transcend the perceived threat emanating from the outside world.

At the workplace, it is not seldom reported that a group of Russian employees shows signs of segregation, sometimes even towards its most direct, non-Russian colleagues. This phenomenon is primarily accounted for by those Basic World Values of We-and-Them; non-Russian-speaking colleagues are perceived as a threat, and the in-group provides security. In order of overcome this cultural inclination of segregation, a corporation may consider developing an alternative sense of ‘We’, for example by repeatedly emphasizing the company’s character as ‘family”, that different ‘We’. Simultaneously, it has to be made palpable that cultural differences are embraced, by being culturally sensitive, i.e. by showing a basic understanding of cultural specifics in daily communication. Thusly, an alternative in-group is created, and a feeling of inadequacy because of one’s cultural peculiarities is avoided. One might argue that this approach be too obvious and has a pejorative connotation to it. Nevertheless, in the business context discourse, certain formulations have always had a pragmatic touch, that of doing business as frictionless as possible, and, therefore, are mutually accepted. Hence, interspersing language elements like “We are a family”, promoting corporation solidarity, wrapped in Solidarity Politeness (which is particularily embraced in Russian culture [4]) has already become good practice in many international companies.

2. At the workplace, cultural gaps in thinking style also matter. Taking a look at the difference between traditional Russian ‘past/present’ versus Western ‘future’ orientation [5], a difference in this scale becomes relevant in so far as orientation on the past and present bears consequences when it comes to cooperation; there is no such thing as a real agenda to determine future outcomes; things can go pear-shaped, and, with the Russian preference to utter what one thinks is true [6], but also not to be direct with superiors [7], an utterance like “Yes, we will do it” is not to be understood as a “Yes”, but as a “Maybe”. This is well-understood in the Russian high-context culture, but Western supervisors may misconstrue it as affirmation, and consequently run the risk of being disappointed, or even feeling deceived. Even though American culture knows the concept of ‘White Lies’ [8], it does not apply here, because neither is the purpose sparing the other person, but avoiding breaking negative news, and nor it is meant as a lie, but as a high-context utterance. Hence, overcoming this gap requires Western superiors to learn about the Russian high-context discourse. Enlightened about the background, they can reemphasize the importance of business demands, or attempt to lower the power distance (P-) by employing solidarity politeness, in order to invite employees to communicate more directly just as they would with colleagues. A misleading high-context ‘Yes’ would then transform into a low-context ‘Maybe’.

3. Russian tendency for particularistic thinking versus European universalistic view may lead, in the business context, to the notion that rules do not apply to everybody to the same extent. Consequently, this might lead to misunderstandings and conflicts. In Western European culture, universal equality before the law and the rules of public cohabitation are mutually accepted, and any deviation from it is widely frowned upon as nepotism. In contrast, Russian are more particularistic. The acute status consciousness of Russian business people , that is, status matters and ‘the boss is the boss’ [9] can be categorized as a manifestation of this characteristic. In contrast, in Anglo-European business discourse, a person-oriented enterprise culture [10], asupervisor is seen rather as a coordinator. A cultural gap arises when Russian employees resort to a deferential and indirect communication style, while, at the same time, the Western employees prefer the direct way. Overcoming this gap would again require diminishing the power distance (P-), and hence to some extent abolishing the special status the supervisor has as an authority figure towards ‘primus inter pares’, the first among equals.

In conclusion, the focus was set on pointing out cultural gaps in the sense of obstacles to overcome in a corporation discourse context. I am well aware that there are positive cultural differences between the Western Europeans and Russians on the COI scales, which could be harnessed for the good of a corporation culture, but those may be the subject of a different essay. Not least, in such instances as investigated, I would prefer putting the emphasis on taking a look at which problems and grievances are there to be improved and overcome, before attending to the positive that is to be promoted – the latter probably culturally independent.

References:

[1] Understanding the Cultural Orientations Approach: An Overview of the Development and Updates to the COA by Joerg Schmitz, Page 8, Table 1: Final Continua and Dimension.

In the dimension of “Interactive Style”, how we handle conflict, disagreements and discords is assigned the continua “Indirect/Direct”. Time-management is depicted on the continuum “Fluid-Fixed”. Within the dimension of “Thinking Style” the way how information is processed is assigned to the scale “Mutli-Focus/Single-Focus”.

[2] Lecture 2.8, Basic values of Russian culture 17:54

“To always distinguish between “us(+)’ and “them(-)”

Lecturer Mira Bergelson: “[…] And one very important aspect for, that characterizes Russians and be seen, can be seen in various situations is to always distinguish us, which are good. Positive and them which are, so to say negatively assessed. Each culture will discriminate between in group and out group, but the amount of this discrimination or better, the strength of borders of the walls that exist. And constructed between us and them, these things really characterize culture. And then this aspect Russian culture, really. Puts sort of heavy, heavy walls and heavy borders between us and them. It can be seen both in the way people deal with strangers and with the familiars and intimates. […]”

[3] An Overview of the Schwartz Theory of Basic Values, Shalom H. Schwartz, page 10 http://scholarworks.gvsu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1116&context=orpc

j) tradition and security–preserving existing social arrangements that give certainty to life;

k) conformity and security–protection of order and har mony in relations;

[4] Mira Bergelson. Russian Cultural Values and Workplace Communication Patterns, page 7

Russian vs. Americans:

[…] Value solidarity politeness more than deferential politeness[…] […]Taken collectively, Russians are more insistent on expressing and reviving solidarity politeness […]

[5] Lecture 2.10, Russian Cultural Dimensions: Time and Action, 12:22

Lecturer Mira Bergelson: “Russia, Russians show strong preferences, or better say, have a strong orientation toward past and present, probably not future.”

[6] Russian Cultural Scripts: The theory of cultural scripts and its applications; http://faculty.washington.edu/vaz2/Documents/AW_Russian_Cultural_Scripts_Wierzbicka.pdf, page 13

[…] Like pravda, truth, too, refers in its meaning to speech, but it is not as exclusively focussed on speech: the important thing is not so much to tell the truth as to know the truth. From a Russian point of view, people want people to tell pravda to others […]

[7] Lecture 4.8, Russian Communication in Comparison at ca. 11:58

“[…] when we talk about the situation with some social hierarchy because hierarchy is an important part of Russian culture […] So, here people would like to be indirect. For instance in the corporate discourse situations, Russians do not like to deliver bad news or provide negative feedback. […] They will therefore they will go to great length to avoid or at least delay this. […] sometimes it can even lead to situations where in a business context the Russian employee will say yes when they really me, mean maybe or no. […]”

[8] Russian Cultural Scripts: The theory of cultural scripts and its applications; http://faculty.washington.edu/vaz2/Documents/AW_Russian_Cultural_Scripts_Wierzbicka.pdf, page 5

[…]On the other hand, it is not regarded as acceptable to lie to another person under any circumstances (and there is no expression in Russian corresponding to the English “white lies”[…]

[9] Lecture 5.10, Russian Corporate Discourse, 14:51

[…] The Russian side is acutely status conscious, which means that Russians don’t like if a person of certain status has to have negotiation with someone who is lower in status as he or she sees it, not the of course normally had because you find much more bosses, male bosses and female bosses in such negotiations. […]

[10] PECULIARITIES OF FORMING ORGANIZATIONAL CULTURE IN RUSSIA, Akperov I., Maslikova J., http://www.russcomm.ru/eng/rca_biblio/a/akperov_maslikova_eng.shtml

[…] Some Russia enterprises succeed due to person-oriented organizational culture. Top professionals with high level of personal responsibility work in such organizations as a rule. Person-oriented organizational culture gives huge possibilities both for meeting ambitious needs and for realization of personal interests and initiative of employees. It is based upon the ability of employees to come to compromise and their independence from each other. As a rule activity of employees is not controlled but only co-coordinated by their supervisors […]

Sitting in the lounge of the local health center, hosting a couple of physicians of various fields, with a long desk as the reception, one can observe people coming and going, interacting with each other verbally or non-verbally. Visitors coming through the big automatic front glass door immediately feel themselves observed by other people once they step into the brightly-lit hall.

The receptionists at the long counter, all of which young females in their twenties, observe people entering, and estimate and await their concerns. The people waiting in the lounge, patients themselves or accompanying their relatives, are busy doing something. Many pass their time by watching the folks in the hall, finding some places to put their eyes on even if for a brief moment.

Those who enter, once they realize that other people are watching them start acting differently. Their gazes become focused towards where they are heading – the reception desk. This is a form of politely and non-verbally saying something in the vein of “I do not notice you watching me.”

Some, accustomed to always greeting and being hailed back, mumble or shout a short and impersonal “Morning”, hoping tacitly at least somebody may hail back. Indeed, even though not everybody responds, at least someone always does. That gives those the minimum recognition for which they hope. Feeling acknowledged and with a slight sense of satisfaction, those steer towards to the reception desk, repeating the perfunctory ‘Morning’: „I have an appointment with Dr. Cornell.” „Sure, what’s your name?“