Sunday, March 09, 2008

A Fascinating Look at Cultural Differences

I found this link to an international study at Absinthe (which I love, even though the posts are relatively infrequent - SOME people have an actual life, it seems).

I am fascinated by the way culture dictates so much that is political. We often talk of a "national character", and, although some stereotypes are clearly outdated, the concept has a core of truth. Americans are generous and honest, outgoing and friendly, forgiving of others, prone to trusting, and expecting change to happen quickly. By almost 60, I've traveled enough that I can say that such a characterization largely fits most Americans.

In this game, first everyone's individual actions were masked, then revealed - and there is when the differences appeared:
striking national differences then arose when freeloaders were punished for putting their own interests ahead of the common good.

In countries such as the US, Switzerland and the UK, the freeloaders accepted their punishment, became much more co-operative and the earnings in the game increased over time.

However, in countries such as Greece and Russia, the freeloaders sought retribution - exerting revenge on those who had punished them - even the model citizens who had paid their way. Co-operation for the common good then plummeted as a result.

In many societies, cooperation starts and stops at the tribal level. The much-praised family solidarity is, indeed, a fine thing.

But, for many cultures, nationhood is a concept that escapes them. They cannot, will not, extend their commonality beyond the level of the individual tribe. All other tribes are potentially enemies. Any interactions are to be conducted with suspicion towards participants not of one's tribe. Efforts by nations to enforce the "national" viewpoint are doomed - look at the former Yugoslavia. Once the iron hand of Communism was taken away, it degenerated into factionalism, tribalism, and chaos.

Can these "pre-national" societies ever become nations, in the sense that I am suggesting? Yes, but it will be a slow process. One thing I would suggest, is a focus on schools as a transmission force. Also, in each country, find out what women want, and where they gather. Give the women a reason to change their cultural norms, and they may well influence the next generation. All the school programs will not be as influential as what Mom says.

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