Are you WEIRD?

The Merriam Webster dictionary defines the adjective “weird” as “of strange or extraordinary character : odd, fantastic.”  Joseph Henrich, an anthropologist at Harvard, has coined the term WEIRD to describe societal differences between the West and other global regions. The acronym stands for “Western, educated, industrialized, rich and democratic.” Tufts University philosophy professor Daniel Dennett described Henrich’s concept as follows:

The world today has billions of inhabitants who have minds strikingly different from ours. Roughly, we weirdos are individualistic, think analytically, believe in free will, take personal responsibility, feel guilt when we misbehave and think nepotism is to be vigorously discouraged, if not outlawed. Right? They (the non-WEIRD majority) identify more strongly with family, tribe, clan and ethnic group, think more “holistically,” take responsibility for what their group does (and publicly punish those who besmirch the group’s honor), feel shame — not guilt — when they misbehave and think nepotism is a natural duty.

For what it’s worth, I intuitively think there is something to the notion of “WEIRDness” as Dennett’s description lines up with my experience in Kenya.

Henrich is the author of “The WEIRDest People in the World: How the West Became Psychologically Peculiar and Particularly Prosperous.”  It is his study on how perspectives on law, religion, family and governance have evolved in societies that led to these WEIRD and non-WEIRD world views. I will have to look at the stack of books awaiting my attention. Who knows? THe topic is intriguing. It might make the stack.

1 thought on “Are you WEIRD?

  1. This constantly impacts US Foreign policy, as people, and more importantly the media informing people, tends to view everything though the ‘weird’ lens. It is almost complete folly to view a society by US norms. Hence the repeated ideal and failure of ‘nation building’.

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