A while back on the FaceTubes, I posted a bit of Robert Kurzban’s humor, and Razib quickly directed me to the butt of the joke: a theory promoted by three anthropologists who believe that classic psychological tests of perception and moral reasoning were inappropriate to accurately gauge the perceptions and moral reasoning (let alone function!) of people in non-Western societies (WesternEducatedIndustrializedRichandDemocratic.) Ethan Watters, in PSMag, tells the tale of Joe Henrich, who developed this theory while studying the Machiguenga of Peru–noting that their choices in the Ultimatum Game differed sharply from typical Western results.
I do recommend reading the whole thing if you’ve not heard of WEIRD. The political aspect of this theory is that the ‘logical’ endpoint of its strategic trajectory is in an academy where theories about human behavior not only become increasingly fine-grained but also seek to elide those newly discovered differences between groups to ignore the fact that they are simply pieces of a larger puzzle and must be put together to make sense of the world. Regarding our South Asian beat, the deconstructionists of damned dirty determinists find:
We are just at the beginning of learning how these fine-grained cultural differences affect our thinking. Recent research has shown that people in “tight” cultures, those with strong norms and low tolerance for deviant behavior (think India, Malaysia, and Pakistan), develop higher impulse control and more self-monitoring abilities than those from other places. Men raised in the honor culture of the American South have been shown to experience much larger surges of testosterone after insults than do Northerners.
What norms do these people observe? What do they regard as deviant behavior? Exactly which impulses are being controlled and how much of that is absence of opportunity? I can say with confidence that growing up in a W.E.I.R.D society hasn’t robbed me of the ability to understand people outside the Western sphere but it has sharpened my focus on moral function, human suffering and the abject failure of some societies to promote the former and mitigate the latter.