*The WEIRDest People in the World: How the West Became Psychologically Peculiar and Particularly Prosperous*

That is the new, forthcoming Joe Henrich book, due out September 1, pre-order here.  Here is my 2016 CWT with Joe Henrich.

For the pointer I thank Brian Ramsdell.


Henrich et al's coining of the acronym WEIRD is both catchy and thought-provoking and they deserve credit for that. Their original article had a thesis that was much more limited and I think valid than the forthcoming book's seems to be.

The article raised the narrower and almost certainly sound point that American undergraduates are probably not typical of all of humanity. They are WEIRD. I think we can all get behind that observation.

Henrich's book seems to take things a lot further, analyzing -- or speculating about? -- how the West got WEIRD, meaning not just American college undergrads but the West in general. It's a good starting point for contrasting other cultures with ours and for investigating the reasons why -- the Catholic church e.g. -- but as that example shows things get a lot more speculative with this broader thesis.

Which might or might not make the book worth reading. 704 pages of speculation, or of good evidence and good arguments? I'll wait to see what the reviewers and readers say. Maybe it'll be a cultural version of "Guns, Germs, and Steel" (another example where I'm not sure we needed a whole book to get the author's point, although maybe the length helps by giving readers more to chew on and debate about).

Weird people tend to be evolutionary dead ends. Maybe that is why the West is quickly becoming an evolutionary dead end.

No1 Abortion and unfettered immigration is causing that.

Someone, please model for me how unfettered immigration threatens the gene pool of whatever we mean by the "West"

I do believe the theory is about culture, not genetics. And I'm not endorsing the view, but let's not pretend regression to the mean is somehow a mystery.

Is it clear what the mean is for third world immigrants? I am pretty sure that the kids of first generation immigrants are substantially taller than their parents, due to better nutrition, public sanitation, housing, etc. So it would stand to reason that they would also have more of whatever is measured by standardized tests. Also, it is difficult to know if the immigrants are above or below the mean.

Re; height, not so much, because of up selection for people already reasonably well nourished - https://voxeu.org/article/child-height-and-living-standards-indian-migrants-england - "Of course, ethnic Indians who migrated to England are not a representative sample of the Indian population, and indeed we estimate that ethnic Indian adults were on average 6-7 centimetres taller in England than in India." (that closes almost all the adult height gap, it looks, comparing England Indians to India).

In truly "Third World" places, only the privileged can migrate and they're close to potential, and in "Second World" places, general increase in standards means most are close enough to their potential.


You misread the words "model for me" as "present edge case with no relation to the future of the gene pool"

Learn to extrapolate.

Defund these people immediately: https://news.northeastern.edu/2020/01/29/how-about-a-smart-device-that-could-catch-implicit-bias-in-the-workplace/

"Henrich reveals that the most fundamental institutions of kinship and marriage changed dramatically under pressure from the Roman Catholic Church."
The church ruled the scribe industry from 400 until 1100. During that period, before paper and before the moveable type, the only literature available was in the parish church.

Many stories existed for generations before being written down. It is not that the church controlled all story making or tales or longer form epic poetry, it is simply only the church felt written records worth maintaining. An attitude not shared in many other parts of the world at the same time that adjoined Western Europe.

China, India and the Middle East (oh, and Byzantium in Eastern Europe-- why is that always left out?) produced copious written records.

For all the criticism leveled at the baby boomer generation, it was baby boomers who had the luxury of being weird. Yes, the luxury, for baby boomers had the confidence of shared prosperity to take a chance, to break from the crowd, to be innovative. Today's generations don't have that luxury, for most of them treading water is success, for them conformity is the path to personal security, conformity found in adapting oneself to the herd on social media. Ironically, the complaint often leveled at today's generation is that they are too individualistic, too focused on themselves, when it's the opposite, Rene Girard's mimetic desire on steroids, reflected in the political and cultural polarization that is a function of tribe not the individual. Yes, let's support Cowen's call to be weird, but mindful of the conditions for it.

"due out September 1, pre-order here." Well, pre-order if (i) you think the Wuhan virus will spare the publishing trade, and (ii) you expect to want new books to read during your self-isolation.

Or will this hoo-ha turn out to be a case of panic? Time alone will tell.

So a book that was finished before today cannot be read by ordinary people for another six and a half months. Publishing is screwy.

There's no doubt that these people who make infantile comments without taking responsibility are the same people who write with feces in public bathroom stalls. The wording is too similar to be unconnected.

One of the big problems is that key to understanding all this are family-level institutions, so small-scale societies, developing countries depend on complex kinship institutions, which are really hard to break down.

What you’re doing is you’re putting Western-style institutions on top of an underlying set of family institutions that doesn’t fit. That misfit causes a lot of problems. It’s only through process of urbanization that you gradually break apart those families.

The challenge that complex societies have always faced is that when they get big enough, they break down into little pieces. Systems for maintaining uniformity have always been a problem.

If you look at human history, what you’ll often see is the expansion of one group rapidly conquering or otherwise assimilating a large area. Then that group gradually breaks down as the inability to maintain cultural uniformity.

Urbanization, as such, doesn't break down family-oriented societies, which continue to endure in fairly complicated social circumstances. The breakdown is the result of a conscious effort by the state to marginalize the role of the family and assume its responsibilities.

Complex societies eventually become so convoluted that the members finally throw in the towel, a situation that is apparent today. The current priesthood is made up of the legal profession and every cultural controversy is submitted to ostensibly disinterested legal referees for disposition. Financially supporting the drones that make up this huge edifice and the arbitrariness of its decisions have created a cynicism that will eventually spell its demise.

Henrich: The challenge that complex societies have always faced is that when they get big enough, they break down into little pieces. Systems for maintaining uniformity have always been a problem.

If you look at human history, what you’ll often see is the expansion of one group rapidly conquering or otherwise assimilating a large area. Then that group gradually breaks down as the inability to maintain cultural uniformity.

This excerpt which Charlie M has highlighted suggests that the author (Henrich) thinks that the Chinese Empire was conquered by the Manchu, or whatnot, because they lost cultural cohesion and uniformity. (This is the old "degradation of asabiyyah" idea, old as Ibn Khaldun).

But I don't think that seems like a historically informed take.

The Chinese Empires eventually faced the invasions they faced, being conquered by smaller parties, because they ended up in situations where the economy tended to be Malthusian, and they had little excess capacity for military funding relative to the very large territory they had to protect. This led to "bad things" when they faced even much smaller nations, peoples and confederacies who had to, by circumstance, maintain a relatively larger military capacity (whether the Manchu, the Mongols, the British, etc.) and where they so ended up in almost equal fights in any given theatre of war against people with far less territory to protect, and far less potential for internal disorder to manage.

The problem was perhaps not too little cohesion and uniformity, but too *much* cohesion and uniformity; a large, peaceful state where peace, pro-sociality and cooperation with strangers, and cultural cohesion bred a culture too close to the margin of subsistence and with little excess capacity to defend itself.

It would be interesting to contrast Henrich's take to Schliedel's recent "Escape From Rome", which posits that the unique reason for Western Europe's success was because its people were particularly fractious (nations of people who might trade and exchange learning, but did not always play nicely with foreigners), and did not cohere into large, fragile empires which made attempts at a uniform culture.

I don't like the WEIRD acronym because it implies that individualistic attitudes are unusual and limited to the West. In truth, individualism is almost a human universal once people achieve a certain level of wealth and mobility. In college and graduate school, most of the international students I met from "collectivist" countries were just as individualistic as your typical average American student. In fact, my experience was that most foreign students from wealthier backgrounds were WEIRDer than the people from my blue-collar Midwestern high school. And the World Values Survey also shows a pronounced shift towards WEIRD values (self-expression over survival, and secular-rational over traditional) as countries get richer: http://www.worldvaluessurvey.org/WVSContents.jsp. Many countries that today would be considered exemplars of WEIRD psychology such as Ireland were culturally more similar to third-world countries in 1980 when they were poorer. So WEIRD is a catchy acronym, but problematic.

What about Japan?

Probably somewhat overrated. I don't actually believe much of the ideas about WEIRD family networks and so on, but I don't know if wealth really makes people individualistic in their attitudes (Are rich doctors in the Philippines more or less "individualistic" than the working class? Or extremely conscious of class, status, religion, family background, etc?).

Specifically for Self-Expression vs Survival values, I suspect that wealth interacts with that as a proxy for physical security and precarity, including cultural threat.

Russia's Self Expression vs Survival values shifted towards Survival in the 1990s, but I don't think that was actually caused by the change in wealth, but caused by the related collapse of safety.

This is probably culturally sensitive though - other countries with a high Self Expression ratio to their physical safety, as in Latin America, probably end up that way through a "Life's too short not to do what you want" attitude.

Anyway, there are multiple scales of Individualism-Collectivism and they often don't agree (Latin America generally scores high on Relational Mobility and Self Expression, supposedly individualistic, but generally also high on traditional Individualism-Collectivism scales).

I have only glanced at the CWT so far, but this from the book copy - "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." - doesn't quite match up with what I see. The current, obsessive self-regard technology encourages in the young today [I noticed a trending hashtag the other day - "#LGBTQin2020" - and clicking on it, discovered it was an endless series of selfie poses by kids demonstrating their individuality by putting on eye makeup and striking the same pout] and its slightly less on-the-nose precursor in what have essentially been a series of Me Decades since the 70s, can admittedly throw you off from what I think of as the WEIRD key: not the narcissism, but the openness and curiosity which was once the claim of Western civ.

e.g.: I'm reading an old book I got off a table at an estate sale for a quarter. "Two Under the Indian Sun." A memoir, at a distance of many years, of sisters whose childhood was spent in 1910s Bengal. The catalogue of minute, remembered details is incredible. Nothing escaped their childish interest, from the flowers, birds, weather, and food to the activities of all in the village, to the religious habits of the household servants with their varied faiths, to the way people of differing status enjoyed holidays, to close observations of their own parents and the separate, adult way they accommodated themselves to the place. A memoir - that most narcissistic of exercises - and yet one that is 90% The People We Met and Things We Saw.

If anything, it seems to me that when one stands exposed, without kin, without the comforting, collective sense of rightness and sang-froid, the upshot is as likely to be humility and a sense of insufficiency, as of self-obsession.

It may be a manifestation of my OCD but I tend to be inordinately curious about people, and this seems to be connected to an ability to make fast friends with foreigners. Contra the micro-agression business, I have found they like very much to be asked about their origins, their culture and history; the educated particularly enjoy giving their candid insider's opinion of affairs in their part of the world. I have a memory of a Korean woman with whom I school-volunteered, during the mom years, who told me all about a king who gave her people an alphabet, and was so moved by her own telling that she began to weep. I have never found that these acquaintances asked any questions in return, however, about the history* of this place they find themselves in, or about me. Whether this is due to some conversational trick I employ, to deflect interest, because I am rightly bored with myself, or because I would find it a waste of my own time to talk about myself - and I admit, there could be a shade of arrogance there; or whether we Americans are - as, perversely, rather predictable, conformist "proud individualists" - mostly not terribly interesting to interrogate, is probably a distinction without a difference.

*Note: I would never agree that our history is not interesting - indeed, anyone who says so may obviously be dismissed at once.

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