University administrators should have seen this coming.
A bold, epic account of how the co-evolution of psychology and culture created the peculiar Western mind that has profoundly shaped the modern world.
Perhaps you are WEIRD: raised in a society that is Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, and Democratic. If so, you're rather psychologically peculiar.
Unlike much of the world today, and most people who have ever lived, WEIRD people are highly individualistic, self-obsessed, control-oriented, nonconformist, and analytical. They focus on themselves--their attributes, accomplishments, and aspirations--over their relationships and social roles. How did WEIRD populations become so psychologically distinct? What role did these psychological differences play in the industrial revolution and the global expansion of Europe during the last few centuries?
In The WEIRDest People in the World, Joseph Henrich draws on cutting-edge research in anthropology, psychology, economics, and evolutionary biology to explore these questions and more. He illuminates the origins and evolution of family structures, marriage, and religion, and the profound impact these cultural transformations had on human psychology. Mapping these shifts through ancient history and late antiquity, Henrich reveals that the most fundamental institutions of kinship and marriage changed dramatically under pressure from the Roman Catholic Church. It was these changes that gave rise to the WEIRD psychology that would coevolve with impersonal markets, occupational specialization, and free competition--laying the foundation for the modern world.
Provocative and engaging in both its broad scope and its surprising details, The WEIRDest People in the World explores how culture, institutions, and psychology shape one another, and explains what this means for both our most personal sense of who we are as individuals and also the large-scale social, political, and economic forces that drive human history. Includes black-and-white illustrations.
Could a marriage policy first pursued by the Catholic Church a millennium and a half ago explain what made the industrialized world so powerful—and so peculiar?
Henrich, who directs Harvard’s Department of Human Evolutionary Biology, is a cultural evolutionary theorist, which means that he gives cultural inheritance the same weight that traditional biologists give to genetic inheritance. Parents bequeath their DNA to their offspring, but they—along with other influential role models—also transmit skills, knowledge, values, tools, habits. Our genius as a species is that we learn and accumulate culture over time. Genes alone don’t determine whether a group survives or disappears. So do practices and beliefs. Human beings are not “the genetically evolved hardware of a computational machine,” he writes. They are conduits of the spirit, habits, and psychological patterns of their civilization, “the ghosts of past institutions.” ❧
Annotated on September 06, 2020 at 11:03AM
WEIRD people have a bad habit of universalizing from their own particularities. They think everyone thinks the way they do, and some of them (not all, of course) reinforce that assumption by studying themselves. In the run-up to writing the book, Henrich and two colleagues did a literature review of experimental psychology and found that 96 percent of subjects enlisted in the research came from northern Europe, North America, or Australia. About 70 percent of those were American undergraduates. Blinded by this kind of myopia, many Westerners assume that what’s good or bad for them is good or bad for everyone else. ❧
This is a painful reality. It’s also even more specific to the current Republican party. Do as we say, not as we do.
This is the sort of example that David Dylan Thomas will appreciate.
Annotated on September 06, 2020 at 11:09AM
By the time Protestantism came along, people had already internalized an individualist worldview. Henrich calls Protestantism “the WEIRDest religion,” and says it gave a “booster shot” to the process set in motion by the Catholic Church. Integral to the Reformation was the idea that faith entailed personal struggle rather than adherence to dogma. Vernacular translations of the Bible allowed people to interpret scripture more idiosyncratically. The mandate to read the Bible democratized literacy and education. After that came the inquiry into God-given natural (individual) rights and constitutional democracies. The effort to uncover the laws of political organization spurred interest in the laws of nature—in other words, science. The scientific method codified epistemic norms that broke the world down into categories and valorized abstract principles. All of these psychosocial changes fueled unprecedented innovation, the Industrial Revolution, and economic growth. ❧
Reading this makes me think about the political break in the United States along political and religious boundaries. Some of Trumps’ core base practices a more personal religion and are generally in areas that don’t display the level of individualism, but focus more on larger paternalistic families. This could be an interesting space for further exploration as it seems to be moving the “progress”(?) described by WEIRD countries backward.
Annotated on September 06, 2020 at 11:19AM
If Henrich’s history of Christianity and the West feels rushed and at times derivative—he acknowledges his debt to Max Weber—that’s because he’s in a hurry to explain Western psychology. ❧
This adds more to my prior comment with the addition to Max Weber here. Cross reference some of my reading this past week on his influence on the prosperity gospel.
Annotated on September 06, 2020 at 11:21AM
Henrich defends this sweeping thesis with several studies, including a test known as the Triad Task. Subjects are shown three images—say, a rabbit, a carrot, and a cat. The goal is to match a “target object”—the rabbit—with a second object. A person who matches the rabbit with the cat classifies: The rabbit and the cat are animals. A person who matches the rabbit with the carrot looks for relationships between the objects: The rabbit eats the carrot. ❧
Annotated on September 06, 2020 at 11:25AM
Toppling the accomplishments of Western civilization off their great-man platforms, he erases their claim to be monuments to rationality: Everything we think of as a cause of culture is really an effect of culture, including us. ❧
Annotated on September 06, 2020 at 11:27AM
He refutes genetic theories of European superiority and makes a good case against economic determinism. His quarry are the “enlightened” Westerners—would-be democratizers, globalizers, well-intended purveyors of humanitarian aid—who impose impersonal institutions and abstract political principles on societies rooted in familial networks, and don’t seem to notice the trouble that follows. ❧
Annotated on September 06, 2020 at 11:29AM
At the Canada-U.S. border, I encountered a study in contrasts.
It did not have to be this way. But as Trump aptly said of himself and his policy, “It is what it is.” He accepted more disease in hopes of stimulating a stronger economy and winning reelection. He’s waiting now for the return on that bet. As so often in his reckless career, his speculation seems to be that if the bet wins, he pockets the proceeds. And if the bet fails? The losses fall on others. ❧
A very apt description of Trump’s life philosophy. Also a broad perspective at how many Republicans and Libertarians seem to view the world economically: privatizing profits and socializing losses.
Annotated on September 06, 2020 at 10:55AM
Lectue 9: Temporal Discounting—Now or Later?
Now consider a fundamental challenge in decisions involving time: temporal discounting, or the human tendency to view rewards as worth less in the future than they are in the present. Study real-life examples of this phenomenon, three explanations for why it occurs, and key approaches to making better time-related decisions.
Lecture 8: Ambiguity—The Unknown Unknowns
In behavioral economics, “ambiguity” refers to conditions in decision making in which we do not know and cannot estimate the probabilities of potential outcomes. Here, investigate three circumstances in decision making that produce ambiguity: “hidden information,” “asymmetrical knowledge,” and “unfamiliar contexts.” Then, learn a two-step approach for dealing effectively with ambiguity.
Interesting applications to insurance here and some good reasons why the market and capitalism won’t help fix some problems.
Lecture 7: Risk—The Known Unknowns
Tolerance for risk is another fundamental element of decision making. Learn how behavioral economics evaluates “risk aversion” and “risk seeking” in both economic and personal contexts, and grasp the role of perceived benefits and perceived risks in explaining risk-taking behavior and choices. Finally, study two basic principles for managing risk.
Lecture 6: Probability Weighting
"Probability weighting” describes how people tend to convert objective information about probability into a subjective sense of what may happen—which can lead to bias and error. Observe how this applies to real-life situations such as buying life or travel insurance, and learn two tools to change how you deal with probabilities.
Lecture 5: Range Effects—Changing the Scale
The principle of “range effects” describes how the relative difference between two quantities becomes less meaningful as the absolute values of those quantities get larger. Grasp how this phenomenon explains apparent inconsistencies in human behavior, and how its existence is linked to our biology. Learn specific steps you can take to minimize its unwanted influence on your decisions.
Sponsored by the Healthcare Affinity & Johns Hopkins Carey Business School
At a time when the nation is looking to the healthcare industry for leadership and service, the pandemic has led to a significant impact on the U.S. healthcare job market. Historically, the healthcare industry has been relatively immune from recessions. However, as services have been cut, income streams have been lost. Join us as our panel of speakers discuss the economic impacts of the pandemic on the healthcare industry. This event will be presented on Zoom.
September 16, 2020 at 03:00PM - September 16, 2020 at 04:00PM
God dammit, I didn’t want to blog again. I have so much stuff to do. Blogging takes time and energy and creativity that I could be putting…
Backwards compatibility keeps systems alive and relevant for decades. ❧
Annotated on August 15, 2020 at 10:50AM
In the Emacs world (and in many other domains, some of which we’ll explore below), when they make an API obsolete, they are basically saying: “You really shouldn’t use this approach, because even though it works, it suffers from various deficiencies which we enumerate here. But in the end it’s your call.” ❧
Annotated on August 15, 2020 at 10:57AM
Successful long-lived open systems owe their success to building decades-long micro-communities around extensions/plugins, also known as a marketplace. ❧
This could be said of most early web standards like HTML as well…
Annotated on August 15, 2020 at 10:58AM
It’s a sure sign, when there are four or five different coexisting subsystems for doing literally the same thing, that underlying it all is a commitment to backwards compatibility. Which in the Platforms world, is synonymous with commitment to your customers, and to your marketplace. ❧
This same sort of thing applies to WordPress for its backwards compatibility. Sometimes it’s annoying, but their adherence to backwards compatibility has kept them strong. They also have multiple ways of doing things, which is nice.
I wonder if there were some larger breaking changes in Drupal 7 and 8 that removed their backwards compatibility and thereby lost them some older websites?
Annotated on August 15, 2020 at 11:03AM
So let’s say Apple pulls a Guido and breaks compatibility. What do you think will happen? Well, maybe 80–90% of the developers will rewrite their software, if they’re lucky. Which is the same thing as saying, they’re going to lose 10–20% of their user base to some competing language, e.g. Flutter.Do that a few times, and you’ve lost half your user base. And like in sports, momentum in the programming world is everything. Anyone who shows up on the charts as “lost half their users in the past 5 years” is being flagged as a Big Fat Loser. You don’t want to be trending down in the Platforms world. But that’s exactly where deprecation — the “removing APIs” kind, not the “warning but permitting” kind — will get you, over time: Trending down. Because every time you shake loose some of your developers, you’ve (a) lost them for good, because they are angry at you for breaking your contract, and (b) given them to your competitors. ❧
Twitter is a good example of this, and they’ve just created a shiny new API in an apparent attempt to bring developers back…
Wonder if it’s going to be backwards compatible? (Probably not…)
Annotated on August 15, 2020 at 11:10AM
I’ve alluded to the deeply philosophical nature of this problem; in a sense, it’s politicized within the software communities. Some folks believe that platform developers should shoulder the costs of compatibility, and others believe that platform users (developers themselves) should bear the costs. It’s really that simple. And isn’t politics always about who has to shoulder costs for shared problems?So it’s political. And there will be angry responses to this rant. ❧
This idea/philosophy cuts across so many different disciplines. Is there a way to fix it? Mitigate it? An equation for maximizing it?
Annotated on August 15, 2020 at 11:14AM
Grasp how behavioral economics uses methods from both economics and psychology to better understand biases and anomalies in decision making—factors that “rational choice” models don’t explain. Learn three core experimental principles of behavioral economics, and about Prospect Theory, which helps explain what human beings value.
Still some overview and basic intro. Hope it picks up soon.
Begin by examining “rational choice” models of decision making from traditional economics, which assume consistent, foresighted, and self-interested decision makers. Then consider how this concept fails to explain many human decisions that appear counterintuitive or paradoxical. Identify two fundamental limitations that challenge our decision-making process.
Fairly facile introduction from my perspective. Didn’t learn anything new here.
Its decision to carry on in the face of the pandemic has yielded a surge of deaths without sparing its economy from damage — a red flag as the United States and Britain move to lift lockdowns.