Since Max Weber published Protestant Ethics and the Spirit of Capitalism in the early twentieth century, Western scholars have constructed a variety of theories to explain the success of certain Western institutions, such as the modern rational capitalist economy, the modern representative Politics, modern science, modern law, modern education, or the modernization of society as a whole. A theory that is more ambitious, more cutting-edge of contemporary science, more refined and broader than ever explained, recently proposed by Joseph Henrich. In 2020, he published The Weirdest Man in the World: How the West Became Psychologically Unique and Extraordinary Quite a sensation. In short, he believes that the success of the West lies not only in its economy, but also in its numerous social institutions, which cannot be attributed solely to Protestant ethics, but also to the unique cultural and psychological patterns of Westerners, which are The formation of cultural characteristics is brought about by the marriage and family planning of the Western Church.
Henrich’s original academic background was anthropology, and his anthropological research adopted the game or game method of economics, focusing on the cultural psychology of different social groups. He taught in the Department of Anthropology at Emory University before transferring to the University of British Columbia, where he holds tenure-track positions in both the Departments of Psychology and Economics. In 2015, he transferred to Harvard University to teach and chair the Department of Human Evolutionary Biology. Although multidisciplinary research is now highly valued in North America, it is still rare for a single person to hold tenure-track positions in such different departments.
Henrich and several collaborators first coined the concept of “weird psychology” a few years ago. Weird (WEIRD) is a combination of the first letters of the words Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich and Democratic. , which happens to be the English word for weird (We ird). Using the term, they succinctly and insightfully illustrate a peculiar phenomenon of psychological research. Psychologists often select a research group and a control group to conduct psychological testing research, and find people’s psychological and behavioral patterns by applying a certain stimulus to the research group and comparing it with the control group. Henrich and his collaborators found through a massive literature review that the samples of modern experimental psychology research groups and control groups are often college students, and most of them are Western college students, especially North American college students. Psychologists have elevated the findings of these studies to a level of general applicability, arguing that these mental and behavioral patterns are of the same mind. But Henrich, an anthropologist, studies primitive tribal peoples, such as tribes in the Amazon forests, or tribes in the Pacific Islands. When he took the same psychometric test there, the results were often different. Obviously, different cultures have an important influence on people’s psychology. They therefore concluded that the existing findings of experimental psychology may be nothing more than the psychological and behavioral patterns of Western university-educated people, who are “weird people” who, in human history and the world, are actually very short-lived , A small group of people whose psychology is not universally human, on the contrary, strange and unique. This literature review presents a serious challenge to experimental psychology, making people realize that there are huge differences in cultural psychology in different societies, thus promoting the expansion of this branch of cultural psychology.
At the beginning of the book, Henrich argues that words lead to physiological changes in people, especially changes in the structure of the brain. He cited neuroscience research results and pointed out that the brain structure of literate and illiterate people is significantly different. The literate person’s brain beam (the middle bridge between the left and right brain) becomes thicker, and the prefrontal cortex responsible for language changes, involving language, objects and faces. Recognition is more specialized in the left occipital region of the brain. These physiological changes improve language memory and broaden brain activity for language processing, while also forcing face recognition to move to the right brain, resulting in face recognition and overall image recognition. The decline has also led to the improvement of analytical recognition. That is, literate people rely more on the processing of sights and objects into their component parts, and less on insight into the overall structure and the overall form of the Gestalt.
Writing, a product of pure culture, not only brings about changes in the structure of the brain, but also brings about changes in hormones and organs, which in turn bring about a series of changes in people’s cognition, motivation, personality, emotions and other aspects of thinking or mentality. . From this point of view, we can realize that after many generations of inheritance and evolution, different cultures may lead to the formation of different deep psychological structures of different ethnic groups. That is, cultural differences are not just cultural differences. If only the culture is different, one ethnic group can easily transplant the culture of another ethnic group, so as to achieve the cultural homogeneity of the two ethnic groups. However, a specific culture has already had an indelible impact on the brain, nerve and psychological structure of the original ethnic group. Even if another culture is transplanted, its inherent nerve and psychological structure still has a long-term influence, whether implicit or explicit.
Henrich’s discourses based on neuroscience and anthropology can be said to coincide with the concepts of “cultural psychological accumulation” and “deep structure of Confucianism” by contemporary Chinese thinker Li Zehou. Li Zehou’s argumentation is insightful, but it remains in philosophical speculation and handy examples, and its influence is also limited to the Confucian cultural circle in Chinese. Henrich’s use of modern scientific methods and empirical research data has a wider scope of influence.
So, what kind of cultural evolution has taken place in the West? Why did this evolution lead to the formation of Western “weird psychology”?
Henrich pointed out that in human society throughout the ages, most people are illiterate. The Chinese are a nation that attaches great importance to writing and education, but until the early or mid-twentieth century, the illiteracy rate in China remained above 80 percent. The literacy rate in a society breaking the 20 percent mark first occurred about five hundred years ago in Europe, especially Northwest Europe. Going back to the source, the breakthrough in literacy is because Protestantism emphasizes that everyone must read and understand the Bible on their own, and cannot rely on the reading and interpretation of priests and priests. The motivation for literacy among Northwestern Europeans at that time was mainly religious, rather than economic factors or the pursuit of material life. Quantitative studies of social history show that literacy rates in different regions are directly proportional to the proportion of Protestants in the population. Martin Luther’s Reformation started in Wittenberg, Germany, and then gradually spread out. Quantitative spatial studies also show that in post-Reformation Northwestern European societies, literacy rates are inversely proportional to the spatial distance from Wittenberg, that is, the closer the population is to Wittenberg, the higher the literacy rate. Not only are Protestantism and literacy rates correlated, but studies using statistical control variables show that it is Protestantism that triggers the increase in literacy, rather than the increase in literacy that triggers conversion to Protestantism. Martin Luther once stated in the process of launching the Reformation that the government must establish schools and popularize education, which became the forerunner of modern schools. Of course, in order to compete with Protestantism, Catholicism has carried out corresponding reforms, including emphasis on universal education. For example, the Society of Jesus paid special attention to education. During overseas missions, as in some parts of Africa, Catholicism and Protestantism both promoted universal education when Catholicism was in competition with Protestantism. Where competition is lacking, however, Protestantism is more engaged in universal education in its spread, thereby increasing the literacy rate of the mission population more quickly.
Literacy is only one aspect of culture. Marriage and family are more important cultural phenomena than literacy. Different from other primates, in human tribal society, marriage and family with a relatively fixed relationship have become the basic unit of daily activities, and the taboos and norms of marriage and family have also become the most important cultural phenomenon. Because of the difference in natural environment and the accidental decision of tribal leaders, different marriage and family systems are formed in different tribes. People are more familiar with polygamy, polyandry, walking marriage, etc., and there are some other marriage systems, such as brother-dead-brother system, that is, if the elder brother dies, the sister-in-law is inherited by the younger brother as the wife, and To give birth to a son for the elder brother in order to carry on the lineage. It’s just that some marriage and family systems have been eliminated, or those who practice those marriage and family systems have been eliminated in the competition.
The extent to which people try to maintain their marriage and family institutions is related to the natural environment and possibly the type of hunting and farming they engage in. Henrich cited recent research published in first-level journals such as “Science” and used empirical data to show that there are significant differences between rice culture and wheat culture. Planting rice can produce high yields, but it is time-consuming and labor-intensive, and requires the cooperation of many people. Therefore, people in the rice culture pay more attention to maintaining the connection of marriage and family, and will form villages with large families and townships connected by blood. In contrast, planting wheat does not require the cooperation and cooperation of many people, and small families can engage in farming and harvesting. Therefore, people in wheat culture are relatively independent, and their marriage and family are relatively unstable.
Humans generally depend on families and clans for survival and reproduction in the biogeographical environment in which they live and in competition with other groups. Tribes that cooperate better across families can win the competition for survival. The state emerges when effective cooperation mechanisms are formed across families and even across clans. The clan-state evolved further, forming a vast empire. Henrich said that the vast majority of human societies throughout the ages are mostly centered on marriage and family, and even huge empires are dominated by the union of multiple families and clans that are divided into hierarchies. China’s successive dynasties have also been governed by the family and the state.
However, contrary to the natural evolutionary trend of this universal and powerful human group, the marriage and family norms and institutions of Western society were forcibly broken. That was broken by the Marriage and Family Program (MFP) dominated by the Western Church. From the fourth century to the thirteenth century AD, the Western Church vigorously implemented MFP, which included the strict prohibition of polygamous marriages, where the marriage must be one man and one woman; marriage with close relatives was strictly prohibited, and the definition of “close relatives” continued to expand beyond the five-servant; Adopters, godfathers and godmothers are not originally related by blood, and intermarriage is also prohibited; marriage with non-Christians is prohibited. In order to propose marriage, people had to leave their villages and towns and go to a larger space to find people of the same faith. After marriage, the newlyweds leave their parents and establish an independent family. This plan has been inherited and implemented in all Protestant denominations. These prohibitions and directives gradually weaken or even destroy kinship networks, reduce family size, reduce fertility, and limit intergenerational succession to the throne and property. For example, King Henry VIII of England was a strong monarch, but because of the constraints of monogamy, he racked his brains for marriage issues, but the Roman Catholic Church always refused his request for divorce and remarriage, and finally, Henry VIII forced The Church of England severed ties with Roman Catholicism. However, the monogamous marriage and family system is still continued by the Church of England (Anglican). Due to infertility after marriage, or the death of childbirth, the Tudor dynasty ended helplessly. Similarly, when the wealth accumulated by nobles and commoners in their lifetimes encounters no children, they can only be donated to the church, and they can obtain fame through the church. When people are in distress, it is difficult to turn to the broken family, and they can only rely on the church as a life safety relief net.
The reason why this set of marriage and family planning in the Western Church was formed and enforced may be accidental and special, because the Orthodox Church, also in Christianity, is much looser on these issues. Henrich believes that, among many reasons, it must have competed with other religions, especially ancient Roman religions, Zoroastrianism, Judaism and Islam. For example, in Zoroastrianism, the marriage of brothers and sisters is accepted and even praised; in Islam, a man can marry four wives, and the marriage of cousins and cousins is accepted and is still very common. However, for these, Henrich did not discuss.
The collapse of the Western blood family system has led to a peculiar set of psychological and behavioral patterns. Because there is no big family and clan to rely on, in order to survive, people must rely on personal physical fitness and quality, must master knowledge and skills as much as possible, and gradually become more individualistic, narcissistic, and control-oriented in terms of perception and cognitive ability; On the other hand, because they are not bound by extended families and clans, these people with a strong sense of independence become non-conformist, less shameful but more guilty, because shame is often caused by violating ethnic norms , while guilt comes from violating one’s conscience or God’s commandments. That is to say, when a person decides whether to do something, the main consideration is not the issue of face, nor the issue of external norms, but whether it conforms to his inner moral principles or the commandments of God. Copernicus put forward the heliocentric theory and Martin Luther initiated the religious reform, which can be said to embody the psychology of individual independence from family dependence and bondage. Henrich said that these are not the common psychology of all people, but the unique or particularly obvious psychological characteristics of Westerners.
The competition for survival requires people to unite into groups in order to resist other groups, but people can no longer rely on blood kinship, but must go beyond blood kinship to find people who share common interests and aspirations. , including a tendency to trust, fairness, honesty, cooperation, principles of impartiality, and moral judgment toward strangers who are not related by blood. The culture of these social norms has in turn led to the formation of certain social organization systems, including voluntary fair markets such as trade associations, cities, and universities that transcend individual characteristics, as well as participatory governance within institutions and external societies. These social institutions emerged in medieval Europe, gradually evolved into the modern West, and eventually spread around the world. For these, the book makes a fairly full account of historical documents and various studies, such as the founding of universities, the construction of urban public clocks and their economic benefits, the expansion of guilds, the persistence of urban populations in the face of frequent wars Growth, the representative system of the city-state, etc.
Henrich emphasizes that the book is not about the world of the West from other countries, nor is it about genetics, but about the cultural evolution, social norms, and psychological mechanisms that lead to modern institutions. “We are not looking at fixed or essential differences between peoples, but at a continuous process of cultural evolution, a process of historical evolution across regions and centuries influenced by multiple factors.” (p. 194) Culture in Human Nature Centrality is reflected in the ability to learn – from whom to learn, what to learn, and when to use cultural learning rather than one’s own experience alone, especially with regard to religion and ritual. However, culture is not similar to computer software, software can be simply upgraded, and cultural update will also change hardware, that is, change people’s brain structure and physiological organ quality. In a given social culture, “even if certain institutional practices are abandoned, the values, motivations and social practices surrounding these traditional institutions will still be transmitted through the generations through cultural transmission”.
In this regard, China is a good example, although some Western systems have been adopted, but the traditional psychology still exists. “In this case, even after the family organization disappears, cultural transmission will continue the family psychology for generations.” Although the new China’s marriage law and a series of revolutionary measures have greatly changed China’s marriage and family system, “with the Unlike people in areas where MFP was used in medieval Europe, rural China in the late twentieth century did not spontaneously create many voluntary associations between like-minded strangers. Instead, people reaffirmed their ties to their ancestral places, strengthening their clan ties, and spontaneously remodeled kinship-based exclusionary groups based on the virtues of loyalty based on nepotism. Even as the Chinese government tried to break up clans in the 1950s, even Burned their genealogy, but it still happened [after the reform and opening up]” (p. 357).
Therefore, according to Henrich’s point of view, the modernization of non-Western peoples has to go through a long period of struggle and repetition, and then it is possible to gradually harmonize their psychology, norms and institutions, and even their reconstructed brain nerves. If concerted change can only happen across centuries and generations, how can one avoid getting caught up in some version of cultural essentialism or some kind of racial superiority? This is my first question to Henrich.
In fact, the Global East, composed of East Asian diaspora from China, Korea, Japan, and other parts of the world, poses some challenges to Henrich’s theoretical construction. First, as described in the book, with or without the adoption of Western religions, the contemporary global East has indeed adopted most of the practices of the MFP, including abolishing polygamy, reducing consanguineous marriages, encouraging newlyweds to form independent families, and more. However, the rapid economic rise of Japan, the “Four Little Dragons” and China did not take centuries and occurred almost simultaneously or staggered with the adoption of MFPs. Henrich’s discussion of the psychological changes caused by MFP, the changes in social norms, and the formation of modern social institutions that have taken centuries For the native process, the factors and specific processes in the diffusion process may be rearranged. Just like Weber’s proposition, the creation of modern rational capitalism may be a breakthrough brought about by Protestant ethics, while the spread of modern rational capitalism or market economy does not necessarily require Protestantism or Protestant ethics as a necessary support.
Second, Henrich is right to point out: “While many ancient and medieval societies outside Europe had thriving markets and extensive long-distance trade, they were often built on networks of personal relationships and kinship institutions, not on networks with extensive It is not based on the principles of fairness and inhumanity of trust on the basis of applicable norms of impersonal exchange.” (p. 307) For example, the Hui people once established a prosperous long-distance trade along the Silk Road through blood kinship. What I want to say is that this happened not only on the ancient Silk Road, but also in Southeast Asia under the rule of modern Western colonialism. The economic success of the Chinese can be said to have brought into play the unique advantages of social networks based on blood relatives, commercial trade and lending. This is done through a network of blood relatives living in different regions, rather than relying on government laws and regulations. In the modern Western-dominated Pacific Rim, the formation of what anthropologists call “boundless empires”, in which the network of blood relatives can also be seen to play a crucial role. In fact, some Chinese families I interviewed deliberately placed their family members in different countries and regions along the Pacific coast. This is a survival strategy of the family. , there may be war, political unrest, racist violence or financial turmoil, and families or family members who have been placed in different places in advance can host relatives who are at risk. Likewise, the Jews of the Diaspora, in order to survive, maintained an extensive network of blood relatives across the globe. These cases highlight several very important factors in the contemporary world, such as immigration, transnationalism, and globalization, which warrant more research and explanation, and which have not yet entered Henrich’s discourse. My guess is that strong blood ties may stifle creativity and economic vitality, and population mobility may weaken or dilute blood ties, thereby giving people more room for invention and economic activity, while not abandoning blood ties in maintaining business. Trust and certain benefits of being a social safety net. These are worthy of further study.
Third, before the adoption of Western systems or modern systems, there were already some so-called weird mental and behavioral patterns in the global East. For example, the book presents a global map of the level of patience in seventy-six countries. The shades of grey indicate that China, Japan, and Korea are very similar to Western Europe, North America, and Australia, but I don’t see any relevant discussion of this psychological feature of the Global East in this book. In addition, the diligent work ethic of East Asians is mentioned more than once in the book, but it is not well integrated into the theoretical explanation. Related to the conjecture mentioned earlier, my conjecture is that once blood ties become thin, as happened in the twentieth century in global oriental societies and some immigrants in diaspora communities settled in culturally diverse cosmopolitan cities, these Psychological traits may facilitate their adoption and integration into modern institutions. This is also where a lot of empirical research can be done.
Finally, shouldn’t this book be complemented by the ability to think comprehensively, with analytical thinking as a feature of “weird person” psychology? Perhaps most “weird people” are indeed strong analytical and weak in synthesis, but in the world of “weird people”, very few people with both abilities can combine the analytical part like this book. Put together and present the big picture in spectacular fashion, although there is still much to be researched, refined and enhanced.
In any case, for scholars interested in comparative sociocultural studies, this masterpiece will surely be on the must-read list for a long time to come. It synthesizes the latest cutting-edge research from multiple disciplines, far exceeding previous works of its kind in breadth and detail. It is predictable that there will always be some people who reject, refute, and falsify certain specific aspects, because refutation and verification are normal phenomena in modern science and academics. However, as a whole, this masterpiece has reached a certain level of art, even if the individual details are disproved, its overall artistic effect will still stand. Of course, this kind of art requires a special perspective, without which you would see a pile of clutter. Once you get your perspective right, you’ll be amazed at how this masterpiece was conceived and created, just like viewing the intellectual work of New York artist Michael Murphy.