If every person is valuable and every person is different, then trying to understand one another is both important and hard. Important because everyone’s point of view matters, hard because though we’re all wired the same, everyone’s inputs – in terms of experiences – are different. And not just our specific experiences, but also the collective norms or culture we absorb.
So I was surprised to read in the New Scientist that people like me are the oddballs internationally, not the norm. The acronym WEIRD, stands for Western, Educated, Industrialised, Rich, Democratic, and being WEIRD certainly makes you odd by world standards.
Whilst I’m persuaded that the Ancient Greeks still have plenty to tell us on how to live our lives, you have to admit they are a bit off beam on facts and evidence sometimes. Aristotle is unmatched on ethics and a painstaking collector of evidence on nature to match Darwin. But some of his conclusions which blend observation and assumption on, for example, physiognomy don’t pass muster in this era of evidence based psychology. For example:
“He that hath but a little beard, is for the most part proud, pining, peevish and unsociable… Great and thick ears are a certain sign of a foolish person, or a bad memory and worse understanding. But small and thin ears show a person to be of a good wit, grave, sweet, thrifty, modest, resolute, of a good memory, and one willing to serve his friend.”
Having examined my ears thoroughly I’m going to forgive myself for developing some theories which experiment and evidence may subsequently prove wrong.
What interested me the most in the studies on WEIRDness was the finding that an ‘egocentric’, highly individualistic, analytic and reductionist worldview is unusual. Talking to a friend today, we concluded it probably started with the Greeks, via Ptolemy and the Enlightenment.
Much of the world is on the contrary holistic, collectivist and allocentric – i.e. orientates by reference to objects in the world instead of describing the world by reference to our place in it.
Much of this I’m sure is due to the removal of nature from our industrialised lives. But as I said to someone at work today, with India and China rising to global leadership, more of what makes the world turn in future won’t have WEIRDness driving it. Or will it?