The origins of WEIRD psychology

This is one of the most important topics, right?  Well, here is a new and quite thorough paper by Jonathan Schulz, Duman Bahrami-Rad, Jonathan Beauchamp, and Joseph Henrich.  Here is the abstract:

Recent research not only confirms the existence of substantial psychological variation around the globe but also highlights the peculiarity of populations that are Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich and Democratic (WEIRD). We propose that much of this variation arose as people psychologically adapted to differing kin-based institutions—the set of social norms governing descent, marriage, residence and related domains. We further propose that part of the variation in these institutions arose historically from the Catholic Church’s marriage and family policies, which contributed to the dissolution of Europe’s traditional kin-based institutions, leading eventually to the predominance of nuclear families and impersonal institutions. By combining data on 20 psychological outcomes with historical measures of both kinship and Church exposure, we find support for these ideas in a comprehensive array of analyses across countries, among European regions and between individuals with different cultural backgrounds.

As you might expect, a paper like this is fairly qualitative by its nature, and this one will not convince everybody.  Who can separate out all those causal pathways?  Even in a paper that is basically a short book.

Object all you want, but there is some chance that this is one of the half dozen most important social science and/or history papers ever written.  So maybe a few of you should read it.

And the print in the references to the supplementary materials is small, so maybe I missed it, but I don’t think there is any citation to Steve Sailer, who has been pushing a version of this idea for many years.


"Who can separate out all those causal pathways" ?

... history is an art, not a science ...

and after all, God created us all. Who knows why He created us the way He did? Who can search out the ways of God?

Hence, unless you are a crackpot who has figured out the one true solution to P or N/P, or are a slightly less cracked crackpot who has written the definitive answer to whether the prime numbers are completely real, completely real all the way down the (very long) pike on which the prime numbers are located on the real number line (no cheating, and Plotinus and Plato cannot be quoted as authorities because we don't really know if what they are recorded as saying is what they really said), you are not likely to have a strong opinion on this.

What I really want to know - does anyone know if that comment would have been better written if "P or N/P" were switched out for the less accurate but more academically accepted "P versus NP problem", and does anyone know if I should have gone with "turnpike" instead of "pike"?
I picture the old brave streetlights I remember from long ago on the parkways leading back from the Sunday night beach, the first brave generation of streetlights that basically lit up, in their way, a four-lane lonely highway instead of some street in some city, (yes I just anthropomorphized streetlights, so what ), when I say pike (Southern State Parkway, if you want to look it up), and I think "turnpike" is sort of associated with roads nobody younger than a centenarian would remember (God bless their youthful hearts, for all they know this is still 1928 - Herman Wouk, de Havilland, I remember), but "turnpike" sounds more Greek than "pike", and maybe would have been a better fit for the later references to poor benighted Plato, who did not get to read demotic Greek at its best, with all those references to the truths the old Hebrew prophets wanted to search out and hear, and to Plotinus

Luke 10:24 for the "prophets wanted to know" reference.

By the way, the Southern State Parkway used to be lined with more trees, back in the day, than it is now. Just as Paris in the 1970s had a cooler nighttime lighting scheme than it does now, and no photographer or artist can prove that, you just have to understand, even so the Southern State Parkway, back in the day, was sort of the epitome of unequaled almost angelic highway lighting against a background of happy nighttime trees (mostly conifers but lots of oaks and maples too)

I have been studying Thai lately it has been a big boon to my English prose skills

Turnpike, definitely.

I agree, definitely turnpike.
Ten years ago I would have known that without asking.
Lesson learned = If you are still fairly young at something, musical or verbal or otherwise creative, dancing for example, trust your instincts

Re: "brave streetlights." I could tell you stories about late-night driving on both Southern and Northern Pkwys.

Do you remember the toll booths on Southern Parkway?

Yesterday, I drove west on it, coming home from the new Hobby Lobby in Massapequa.

I assume you are referring to S/P Nassau/Suffolk Counties, NY.

Thanks, I remember them, those grey or olive-grey toll booths, but until you reminded me, I had not though about them since 1975 or so.

(true story, a couple years ago I "dated" a woman who had spent a few months one summer collecting tolls on the NJ Turnpike ... well, I won't expand on that, but one night driving to Virginia from Atlantic City three toll booths in a row were staffed by bored women who said witty and kind things to me....and I am not all that good looking, they were not flirting qua flirting, there was something in the air)

I am sure those stories about the Southern and Northern Pkwys would be interesting, more interesting than my three toll booth in a row kind and witty toll collectors recollection was ...

I got the idea from Stanley Kurtz and HBD Chick has vastly developed it since my 2003 article "Cousin Marriage Conundrum:"

This man should be raised in status.

+1 for properly citing your sources!

Did the paper cite hbd*chick?

On topic:

It's the institutions, stupid! Shared institutions bind the individuals to a community, and the community provides order and stability. That is the conservatism of the Enlightenment. So says David Brooks in his column today: "There never was such a thing as an autonomous, free individual who could gather with others to create order. Rather, individuals emerge out of families, communities, faiths, neighborhoods and nations. The order comes first. Individual freedom is an artifact of that order." What has happened to break down community and orderr? Brooks: "The Republican Party became the party of market fundamentalism. Market fundamentalism is an inhumane philosophy that makes economic growth society’s prime value and leaves people atomized and unattached. Republican voters eventually rejected market fundamentalism and went for the tribalism of Donald Trump because at least he gave them a sense of social belonging. At least he understood that there’s a social order under threat. The problem is he doesn’t base his belonging on the bonds of affection conservatives hold dear. He doesn’t respect and obey those institutions, traditions and values that form morally decent individuals."

Hillary is Hillary. She was so dense as to say it.

Are cutting regulations a rejection of "market fundamentalism?"

The markets have been heavily central planned, interfered, intervened for over 100 years.

I guess globalism; enriching Wall Street and guys like Bezos, Buffett, Gates while Main Street sucked wind; QE's; near-zero-interest rates; financial fascism; etc. are essentials of "market fundamentalism."

Tribalism? Apparently, liberal lizards don't like Trump co-opting their identity politics.

Also seen elsewhere on the web. One explanation of Trump's glorious 2016 election win is that whites in fly-over country - you know, the deplorable Americans you fear and loathe (Shut up and pay your taxes!) - may have begun to view themselves as minorities that need to bloc vote to advance their interests. (How dare they!)

I'm tired of this "enriching Wall Street" meme. Who cares if some people gain a lot of wealth if the majority of poor people around the world also gain significant benefits? Globalism has demonstrably resulted in the latter as much as the former.

Shouldn't we care about our neighbors? Or how about our family members? It isn't that people on Wall Street get wealthy and that poor people in many third world countries get less poor, but that Wall Street gets wealthy in part by making ordinary Americans less wealthy, totally independent of globalization, though globalization itself has been a destabilizing force since China's accession to the WTO.

Is the ordinary American really less wealthy now than, say, 40 years ago? I know there are winners and losers in this game, but statistically speaking, is the average American worse off in a material way now? (Again, avoiding psychological issues like loneliness and depression.)

I know people argue that real wages haven't gone up meaningfully in a while, but why do people expect that to keep happening indefinitely (it's like assuming that house prices will keep increasing)?

American wages kept increasing in a period when America produced everything and the world's consumer base (for American goods) kept increasing. Neither of those conditions hold now. So I'd argue globalization has produced a long overdue balance. And there's no going back to the old status quo, regardless of what Trump and his team do with economic and trade policy.

Slower growth in productivity should lead to slower growth in incomes, but even still, the US economy is a lot more productive on a per capita basis than it was 40 years ago. Also, it appears that millenials are less wealthy than previous generations at the same point in life, so it does appear that things are going backwards.

The continuing use of the term "tribalism" to denote opposing political ideologies demonstrates an astonishing lack of imagination in lexicography. "Tribalism" already has a long-established meaning and it has nothing to do with modern nation/state politics. Like the term "democracy" used in reference to current national government systems, a buzz word that should have been replaced long ago with something like "media-driven p.r. representation selection", the meaning of tribalism has been corrupted and now has a connotation unrelated to its original meaning. Make up a new word.


Brooks' main point is about community, the institutions that create community, and order: "There never was such a thing as an autonomous, free individual who could gather with others to create order. Rather, individuals emerge out of families, communities, faiths, neighborhoods and nations. The order comes first. Individual freedom is an artifact of that order." I should not have included his comment about Trump and tribalism since that has become the focus of many reader. Order, the product of institutions and community, comes first, and individual freedom derives from that, not the other way around.

Even so, as Brooks has said in the past, both the left and the right share blame in the breakdown in community. From about the 60's onwards, it seems that liberals have been trying to tear down and discredit many of the little platoons of American society as regressive and repressive, while Republicans have been working to destabilize the economic conditions which support the flourishing of those institutions.

That it's institutions is a no-brainer, but how do good or bad institutions arise? Is it purely through contingent circumstances and virtuous/vicious cycles, as Acemoglu and Robinson argued in "Why Nations Fail", or is it because certain people possess "positive" qualities through their genes, as Sailer and people on his side believe?

Would Europeans and people of European descent be as prosperous today relative to Third-Worlders, regardless of their "WEIRD" qualities, if their ancestors had not been able to spread out all over the world from the 15th century on, to settle or colonize or rule, and harness much of the world's resources to develop their societies? (I'm sure I'll get knee-jerk reactions from people here, but this is a serious question. How useful are qualities without resources and opportunities?)

I would think that the fact that the industrial revolution started in particular locales (like England and maybe the Netherlands), and not in nearby locales with populations who are very genetically similar would be evidence for the contingent nature of the arising of good institutions.

As to the second question, I guess that would depend on your views of the industrial revolution. Would the industrial revolution have happened without European colonization? If the industrial revolution could and would have happened without colonization, then European wealth would seem to not be a result of colonization.

Would the industrial revolution have happened without European colonization?

You are right, that's the key question. The true answer may be unknowable because so many different changes happened in the world during that period: migrations, colonization, the Enlightenment and the scientific revolution, geopolitical events that were favorable to Western Europeans (self-inflicted weakening of Asian and Middle-Eastern powers.)

Then there were also internal changes that happened in Western European countries around that time: the nascent growth of contractual capitalism replacing commerce based on feudal relationships (the latter still holds sway in poorer countries.) The peasantry in England was pushed to the limit through the enclosures' policy, so budding industrialists had a ready and available labor force waiting for them. (I believe it would have been as hard to push peasants into industrial work as it once was to push hunter-gatherers into farming work, unless the peasants had no other choice.)

Anyway, these are mere speculations on my part. If you know of any authoritative text that deals with this question, I'd be happy to look it up.

"there is some chance that this is one of the half dozen most important social science and/or history papers ever written"

If I channel my inner Bryan Caplan, I conclude that the shaggy phrasing indicates a quite low probability and decide not to look at the paper. But I might be doing it wrong.

Not only the Admirable Sailer but also HBDchick, you gynophobe.

Fukuyama had this in one of his books on "Getting to Denmark", although I don't know if he got it from Steve Sailer. I suspect that Sailer was not the originator, as Fukuyama stressed how the Church's policy on marriages elevated the power and status of women compared to more traditional kin based societies, and he himself was synthesizing and summarizing the work of a lot of other people.

WEIRD? This is either a joke or a really tendentious paper.

Maybe it started as a joke, but its been around as a term in psychology for at least 15 years, if not more.

The question is whether the change in norms is due to some genetic effect on Europeans under the Catholic norms, or if the change in norms is cultural, and therefore could be adopted universally by people from other cultures.

Much of the debate about immigration, coming from the alt-right, hinges on their argument that non-whites are innately genetically clannish, and therefore mentally incapable of assimilating into Western culture.

It doesn't seem to me to matter a button whether the disinclination of, say, North African moslems to assimilate in France is genetic or cultural. What matters is that they apparently are really keen not to assimilate.

Many may not be. But it should be possible to make that determination on an individual basis instead of having a blanket policy against north African Muslims as a group. There might be a few north Africans who aren't even Muslim.

Wouldn't Cecilia Heyes call WIERD behaviors the artifacts of her Cultural Gadgets?
Her "hypothesis (is) that distinctively human cognitive mechanisms really are constructed by cultural evolution ,

Heyes, Cecilia. Cognitive Gadgets: The Cultural Evolution of Thinking (p. 77). Harvard University Press. Kindle Edition.

Leftist nonsense.

correlation isn't causation, but it's a helluva start for just so narratives. i would put up an alternative narrative that the very long period of political fragmentation and military competition in Western Europe drove tech innovation and made airtight guilds a hopeless pipe dream.

The realization that progressivism (with its moral foundations) are actually a branch (a radical branch, even) of Christianity is amusingly heretical for some progressives. The idea of caritas (charity - love) as the foundational virtue and universal, non-particular, 'agape' love as its purest form, expressed best in the unattached, asexual, family-free, gold/market ignoring, peoples and government non-participating (not even in revolution against), is a logical outgrowth of a straight line drawn through some of the least conventional passages in the Torah, through the Prophets, via the Gospels, into the letters of Paul, and then to Revelation.

The theology that this breeds says that the love is meant to be spread in ever widening circles and that while some conventions (of judgement, of kinship, etc) remain, they are just waiting to fall away on the progressive path to this particular eschatological incarnation.

The world that is envisioned is freed from historical biology and psychology; most notably, free from death. But also from birth. And from marriage. Away falls power and oppression, self-interest, fear, and every structure that otherwise manages these realities - kinship, government, market, tribalism, localism, etc.

The chief question this spurs is whether one can 'immanentize the eschaton.' As progressivism progresses, it casts off the particularity even of the religions that it sprang from, seeing the early Church as arising from 1st century Judaism, and post exilic Judaism from monotheistic Judaism, from earlier Hebrew polytheism, etc; none of them having a clear view of the 'truth.' Universalist unitarianism has a vision of having outgrown Christ, frankly, and not having any need for a second coming, which seems unlikely given the 2000 years that have passed and all the science that has accumulated since. 'Brights' believe they have outgrown theism and deism, etc.

Anyway, the only question is whether the progressives are effectively nested within or birthed out of Christianity.

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