Tuesday 16 March 2021

A WEIRD prism is just one perspective

Influences of significance

When my dad said over a decade ago, “You have always thought like a Westerner.” I feigned ignorance of what he implied, but it got me thinking about things that baffle me daily. How it is that my worldview on many issues and situations are so radically different from many with whom I am supposed to share a heritage.

Then again, I realise that I have also fallen into a trap and a misconception about culture and values needing to converge to a Judeo-Christian Western construct with the view that those who appear to deviate from such might not represent the best of our humanity.

How marriage changed us

Indeed, many of our international laws of trade, of industry, of life, or of diplomacy follow a broadly western model that has become a synonym for modern and civilised, we miss out on understanding other constructs, cultures, civilisations, and customs that makes other members of our diverse humanity uniquely different, interesting, and rich.

This was brought into stark relief when I listened to a podcast The West and the Rest by Matthew Syed on BBC Radio 4 on his Sideways series, which started with the observation of different psychological responses to what was studied and expected in the West to how intriguingly the advent of Christianity changed marital norms like forbidding marriage to cousins, opening clans to strangers and birthed the kind of innovation and mindset that typifies the West today. [BBC Radio 4 Sideways Podcast: 3. The West and the Rest]

Weird as we come

It begs the question about who the weird ones are, we in the west or the non-western cultures. Whilst there is no way I will pass for a WASP (White Anglo-Saxon Protestant), I am most definitely one of the WEIRD (Western Educated Industrialised Rich and Democratic), a psychological term that was defined in the 2000 book, The WEIRDest People in the World: How the West Became Psychologically Peculiar and Particularly Prosperous by Joseph Henrich.

Having an audible copy of this book, it would probably give me an appreciation of why I think differently and why I should make ample accommodation for how other cultures will not converge to my worldview. This would mean we need to negotiate and agree on certain principles, attitudes, and rules for the good of humanity even if implementations will differ.

I come away with the insight that cultural divides will only be bridged with an openness of the mind and the putting away of the western hubris that has led us on spectacularly failed escapades of sowing seeds of our kind of civilisation around the world.

Read or listen

The WEIRDest People in the World: How the West Became Psychologically Peculiar and Particularly Prosperous [Amazon]


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