If you’re listening to this podcast, you’re almost certainly WEIRD. I’m not trying to insult my loyal and beloved Gospelbound listeners but simply observing that you’re likely to be Western, educated, industrialized, rich (compared to other places and times), and democratic (as in the system, not the party). Put it together, and you get the acronym WEIRD.
The man behind the acronym is Joseph Henrich, chair of the department of human evolutionary biology at Harvard University and author of many important works. His latest is The WEIRDest People in the World: How the West Became Psychologically Peculiar and Particularly Prosperous [read TGC’s review]. Sometimes a book’s true significance sinks in over time—and sure enough, I’ve talked about this book more and more in the months since I read it. You’ll get pretty much everything you want: theology, history, neuroscience, biology, social science, economics, and more. Everything from the rule of law to individual rights to commercial markets to democracy to religious freedom to the growth of cities fits into his narrative.
Henrich weaves it all together to explain what separated the West from world history. But his story is neither inevitable nor triumphalist. He argues that if you looked at the world in the year 1000, you’d never imagine that Europe would eventually surpass China or the Islamic world in power and wealth. And you can see the pros and cons in what makes the WEIRD distinct:
[W]e WEIRD people are highly individualistic, self-obsessed, control-oriented, nonconformist, and analytical. We focus on ourselves—our attributes, accomplishments, and aspirations—over our relationships and social roles.
At the center of the narrative is the church and its prohibitions on cousin marriage (yes, you read that correctly). Henrich explains more in this week’s episode of Gospelbound.
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