Welcome to the new version of European Tribune. It's just a new layout, so everything should work as before - please report bugs here.

LQD: We Aren't the World

by ATinNM Sat Mar 23rd, 2013 at 03:50:06 PM EST

We Arenít the World.

Joe Henrich and his colleagues are shaking the foundations of psychology and economics--and hoping to change the way social scientists think about human behavior and culture.


In the end they titled their paper "The Weirdest People in the World?" (pdf) By "weird" they meant both unusual and Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, and Democratic. It is not just our Western habits and cultural preferences that are different from the rest of the world, it appears. The very way we think about ourselves and others--and even the way we perceive reality--makes us distinct from other humans on the planet, not to mention from the vast majority of our ancestors.

Well worth the time.

Haven't read the actual paper yet.  

Display:
linky?

'The history of public debt is full of irony. It rarely follows our ideas of order and justice.' Thomas Piketty
by melo (melometa4(at)gmail.com) on Sat Mar 23rd, 2013 at 04:26:23 PM EST
Linky.

Added to diary as well.

She believed in nothing; only her skepticism kept her from being an atheist. -- Jean-Paul Sartre

by ATinNM on Sat Mar 23rd, 2013 at 04:52:26 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Why Americans Are the Weirdest People in the World

Given that people living in WEIRD societies don't routinely encounter or interact with animals other than humans or pets, it's not surprising that they end up with a rather cartoonish understanding of the natural world. "Indeed," the report concluded, "studying the cognitive development of folkbiology in urban children would seem the equivalent of studying `normal' physical growth in malnourished children."

During our dinner, I admitted to Heine, Henrich, and Norenzayan that the idea that I can only perceive reality through a distorted cultural lens was unnerving. For me the notion raised all sorts of metaphysical questions: Is my thinking so strange that I have little hope of understanding people from other cultures? Can I mold my own psyche or the psyches of my children to be less WEIRD and more able to think like the rest of the world? If I did, would I be happier?

LOL, spot on...

'The history of public debt is full of irony. It rarely follows our ideas of order and justice.' Thomas Piketty

by melo (melometa4(at)gmail.com) on Sat Mar 23rd, 2013 at 05:46:42 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Among Westerners, the data showed that Americans were often the most unusual, leading the researchers to conclude that "American participants are exceptional even within the unusual population of Westerners--outliers among outliers."

Given the data, they concluded that social scientists could not possibly have picked a worse population from which to draw broad generalizations. Researchers had been doing the equivalent of studying penguins while believing that they were learning insights applicable to all birds.

Perhaps I should go back to my old sig line: "If sanity be culturally normative then by the norms of this culture I claim insanity."

As the Dutch said while fighting the Spanish: "It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."

by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Sat Mar 23rd, 2013 at 09:37:58 PM EST
That was a really fascinating article.  Coming from an Anthropological background, I also found the academic politics in it quite interesting.

Anthropologists implicitly understand the basic thesis these researchers propose - culture makes people really different.  That basic understanding is deeply ingrained into every major approach to the understanding of culture.

However, Anthropology as a discipline has become wedded to particular political positions which make this knowledge dangerous to express.  We oppose stereotypical reductionism and racist logic as a matter of course - people are diverse and complex.  But if we actually go about listing and explaining and defining these differences and complexities, our work becomes a tool that can be used to reinforce other bodies of knowledge in a racist and reductionist manner.  The masters could use this understanding of culture to govern and oppress more effectively - which is intolerable, as most Anthropologists are touchy-feely leftists.  

So, the potential political consequences of our research lead to immense self-censorship, both in the choice of topics and in the manner of presentation.  Most notably, there's no harm in writing narrative deconstructions of the discursive construction of the self, because no one has the faintest clue what you're talking about except the select elite.  Further, this style of approach has its own benefit, in that leads the initiated towards an almost mystic contact with the intellectual truth of the matter.  You come to know it, more than understanding it.

After having written this, it reminds me of nothing more than medieval Alchemy.  Real understanding of chemistry was coded and hidden in such a way that only the adept could see, and which was intuitively understood in a holistic manner.

It's no wonder that everyone ignores Anthropology.  But as this article makes clear, our contempt for the other social sciences was more or less justified, and for the same general reasons we intuitively felt to be true - they were ignoring the vast and immense differences created by culture, and this seriously tainted all their research.    

by Zwackus on Sat Mar 23rd, 2013 at 10:49:35 PM EST
So, the potential political consequences of our research lead to immense self-censorship, both in the choice of topics and in the manner of presentation.  Most notably, there's no harm in writing narrative deconstructions of the discursive construction of the self, because no one has the faintest clue what you're talking about except the select elite.  Further, this style of approach has its own benefit, in that leads the initiated towards an almost mystic contact with the intellectual truth of the matter.  You come to know it, more than understanding it.

Anthropology: the academic successor of the esoteric traditions where the understandings conveyed were thought too dangerous for any but the initiated to have.

As the Dutch said while fighting the Spanish: "It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."
by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Sat Mar 23rd, 2013 at 11:21:32 PM EST
[ Parent ]
And yet - one of the most insightful writers at the FT (in particular about the crisis), Gillian Tett, started off as an anthropologist...

Wind power
by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Mon Mar 25th, 2013 at 06:24:06 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Rather than 'and yet' I'd say 'and precisely'...

guaranteed to evoke a violent reaction from police is to challenge their right to "define the situation." --- David Graeber citing Marc Cooper
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Mon Mar 25th, 2013 at 07:20:04 PM EST
[ Parent ]
But Ms. Tett would likely have an interesting time trying to get a tenure track position at a major university at this time. Not that she would ever so desire. I suspect what she is currently doing is FAR more interesting to her than being a tenured professor could ever be, albeit less secure.

As the Dutch said while fighting the Spanish: "It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."
by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Tue Mar 26th, 2013 at 05:32:22 PM EST
[ Parent ]
As is well known, the struggle for tenure is a great weeder-out of heterodoxy.
by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Wed Mar 27th, 2013 at 03:02:04 AM EST
[ Parent ]


Display:
Go to: [ European Tribune Homepage : Top of page : Top of comments ]