The book explains how Europe and the West became modern (Amber to Orange) and ended up dominating the world. But the author’s explanation of cultural evolution would seem to rule out the same developmental processes happening elsewhere. So, wondering if anyone has taken a look at this book and critiqued its ideas from an integral perspective? If so, would love to hear them. Thx.
Hi William, I have not read this one (but I just now ordered it). I have read many parallel works on how the West become the West, and how the West compares with everyone else. So while waiting for the book (coming to me in a couple weeks), I’d be happy to hear your views on it.
Update - now have the book. Enjoying it very much!
Another update - I recently had a lovely advising talk with an Afghan student about her career and study plans. She is coming to realize that in the US she is on her own, feeling a bit lost in all the options, and wanting some sort of firm plan she can hold on to. My response (based on personal experience of course, but Henrich giving plenty of backup) was “Welcome to America! There are plenty of people in the US who have lived here 10 generations or more who are just as confused, just as isolated, just as lacking in any sense of what the future might hold”. I generally reassured her she is not crazy, very capable, and likely to find her way in this world, albeit maybe not in some obvious straight-line direction.
It appears that some are born WEIRD, others achieve WEIRDness, and others have WEIRDness thrust upon them. My student had hers thrust upon her, but she is working mightily to match her situation with personal achievement, in a way that not all native WEIRD folks are often able to manage.
Hi Robert. Glad to hear you’re enjoying WEIRDest People. Sorry for the delay in responding. Came down with Covid while my son and partner came to visit, so it’s been a disruptive time. All recovered now.
You asked my thoughts on the book. Well, in general, I like big history and its mega-explanatory power. (It’s one of the reasons I like Integral so much.) As for WEIRDest, it makes a compelling argument regarding strictures against kin marriage as the most significant cause of the rise of the West, but I found it a bit monological. For example, it doesn’t explain the movement towards modernity elsewhere in the world, for example the early intimations of the modernist worldview in ancient Greece. And I wonder why it took 1000 years for the kinship restrictions to activate Protestantism and the push towards literacy, which seems to have been the really big foundation for modernism?
I think there are many causal threads that can be pursued to explain the unfolding of history after-the-fact. So, while kinship marriage restrictions seem to have weakened clannish and tribal behaviours, WEIRDest doesn’t have anything to say about why postmodernism or post-postmodernism ought to arise, so it seems to lack predictive power (which Integral theory has). Basically, I think the world is phenomenally more complex in its unfolding and evolution than WEIRDest would lead us to believe. That being said, the book contains a lot of interesting and thoughful history, I just wish it had an editor who reduced its content by 40% as there was a lot of redundancy.
Henrich studied under Jared Diamond. Have you read Guns, Germs, and Steel? There is a basic insight in that book that explains quite a bit. Namely, that European geographical diversity makes it a difficult place to conquer. No emperor could really rule it all. China had printing long before Europe did, but China never had a Luther. Or if there were such characters, they got reigned in. Heretics in Europe could always find someplace to set up shop. That’s what fueled various types of innovation in Europe - every innovation got its chance to perform because the vested interests never could really stamp anything out. There were some sides to this competition and innovation cycle we tend to like (science, democracy) and some sides that have fallen out of favor (colonial empires, arms races). All of these developments - like them or not - depended on international rivalries.
I have not gotten through Henrich’s kin group analysis yet, but in any case, without the more material framework laid out by Diamond, it’s not clear that kinship innovations would have had any staying power. In AQAL terms, there are Lower Right factors in support of Henrich’s more Lower Left focus.
About half way through the book, it does a bit on the deep continuity part. As the book shows, Roman property law was more modern than that of the Germanic tribes, in that the Roman patriarch could do whatever he wanted with his property, including donate to the Church. Also, as shown not so much by Heinrich, but by many others, modern personality structure has its roots in Axial Age philosophies and religions (your Greek intimations). So the idea of an individual patriarch bequeathing generously to the Church to beat the Biblical “eye of the needle” clause only makes sense if salvation is an individual matter, and not so much about your extended clan or your ancestors. We can thank both the Greeks and the Hebrews along with Roman law for informing that particular Christian perspective.
The social history of the Middle Ages was largely the Church in alliance with the Frankish kings figuring out how to expropriate the clan-based nobility. The literate clerics, followed eventually by literate bourgeoisie, were instrumental in that process. Why did it take so long? Consider material conditions in the Middle Ages. Transport was slow and uncertain. Bulk goods could not be moved far over land. It took a lot of incremental technical innovations before Luther could launch his salvos against the indulgences system. In Protestant Europe, the “eye of the needle” became capitalist reinvestment rather than endowing the Church. Thus triumphed the WEIRD.