Ten years ago an academic paper stood the social sciences on their ear. It came out of the psychology department at the University of British Columbia.
A certain kind of person, the authors noticed, has been building the models and running the experiments and basically “programming the algorithms that run the world.” The psychologists (Joe Henrichs and Steve Heine and Ara Norenzayan) coined a term for those people: They are WEIRD.
Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, and Democratic.
In other words, us. We are the WEIRDos. The WEIRDest People in the World.
And the constellation of circumstances that makes us us produces a particular kind of mind. It’s a mind that’s great at some things, such as generating wealth and occupying thrones and enforcing accountability. But it’s also a mind with serious blind spots. (Not the least of which is that it’s blind to its own blind spots.)
We WEIRDos have a few signal traits. One is fierce individuality. We like working in silos, rather than working together as a group. Also, we “rely heavily on analytic thinking over more holistic approaches to problems.” And why wouldn’t we? We learned that from Aristotle, and he was a fairly sharp pencil.
The great arrogance of us WEIRDos – apart from forgetting that there are billions of earthlings who see the world very differently – is assuming that our way to live, the solo sailor way, is the right way. Again, why wouldn’t we? If Western history has taught us anything it’s that the most valuable currency is the sweat of our own brow. The Protestant work ethic and all that. Hitch up some donkeys or slaves and the sky’s the limit.
Meanwhile, the rest of the world doubles down on family, tradition and faith – the very things we’re retreating from. The rest of the world prefers solidarity to “success.” We’re the reverse.
Guess what? That’s not just WEIRD. It’s weird.
And now the revenue stream of our weirdness is drying up. And the bill is coming due.
Because the world is now faced with problems so big that holistic thinking is the only way we’re going to grok them. And egoless collective effort is the only way to solve them. And those “primitive” rituals are the only way we’re going to cope with them without going mad.
In other words, it’s time to have the humility to say: We’re stuck in the mud here. Let’s bring in some outside minds.
Or else we die.