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.
Tag: Catholic church
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
Researchers combed Vatican archives to find records of how ancient church policies restricting whom one could marry shaped Western values and family structures today.
Western Educated Industrialized Rich Democratic (WEIRD) countries ❧
I love this acronym!
Annotated on August 01, 2020 at 05:41PM
That restructuring of societies in Western Europe in turn also benefited the church, notes Henrich. “In some sense, the church is killing off clans, and they’re often getting the lands in wealth,” he says. “So this is enriching the church. Meanwhile, Europeans are broken down into monogamous, nuclear families and they can’t re-create the complex kinship structures that we [still] see elsewhere in the world.” ❧
If true, this is an astounding finding.
Annotated on August 01, 2020 at 05:46PM
👓 Archbishop apologises over handling of abuse claims against Tolkien son | the Guardian
Church paid settlement to avoid disclosing knowledge of indecency in 1968, hearing told
🎧 The Daily: The War Inside the Catholic Church | New York Times
Vatican intrigues usually remain behind the walls. But a new accusation levied against Pope Francis has laid bare ideological rifts.
🎧 The Daily: A Culture of Secrecy That Perpetuated Abuse | New York Times
A sweeping report issued by a grand jury in Pennsylvania sheds new light on the systemic nature of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church.
👓 We Saw Nuns Kill Children: The Ghosts of St. Joseph’s Catholic Orphanage | Buzz Feed News
Millions of American children were placed in orphanages. Some didn’t make it out alive.
👓 We Saw Nuns Kill Children: The Ghosts of St. Joseph’s Catholic Orphanage | Buzz Feed
Millions of American children were placed in orphanages. Some didn’t make it out alive.
👓 Discovery of Galileo’s long-lost letter shows he edited his heretical ideas to fool the Inquisition | Nature
Exclusive: Document shows that the astronomer toned down the claims that triggered science history’s most infamous battle — then lied about his edits.
Stained Glass in the Morning Sun
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I’m not seeing it available on Amazon yet…