Subscribe for updates

Saturday, December 31, 2022

Homecoming - a Book Report

 Homecoming: The Path to Prosperity in a Post-Global World by Rana Foroohar.

Wow. What can I say about this book to get you to read it? When I first read Daniel Kahneman's Thinking Fast and Slow, I felt like every page was a new, fresh insight. It is the same with this book. Every page offers a fresh insight, a new piece of information, a surprising technology, a new bit of history, a really bright idea. The basic topic is the failure of the neo-liberal globalization of the free market economy.The author is a journalist, an editor for The Financial Times.  She builds her case well. This is an excerpt from a review:

She says that for decades, the neoliberal economic philosophy of prioritizing efficiency over resilience and profits over local prosperity has produced massive inequality, persistent economic insecurity, and distrust in our institutions. Place-based economics and a wave of technological innovations now make it possible to keep operations, investment and wealth closer to home, wherever that may be. With the pendulum of history swinging back, Foroohar explores both the challenges and the possibilities of this new era, and how she says it can usher in a more equitable and prosperous future.

The problem is that by the time you are halfway through the book, you realize that the problems and potentials she describes are very complex. We humans have created an economic and political engine of extreme complexity. I am fairly bright, but most of this has simply escaped my notice over the past few decades. Given the scope of the problems, she is amazingly positive on the future prospects for change. But I am wondering just how many business leaders, economists and politicians have the capacity to grasp the scope of the problems she explains, and have the initiative to undertake these innovative efforts to move the world forward. How many would ever even pick up the book to begin to learn a little about global economic and social trends?

To encourage you to read the book, here is some of the content that impressed me.

China is the key threat to world order. China grew tremendously under the neoliberal free trade and fair exchange approach. And they took advantage of the rest of the world. The hope was that their participation in the global economy would also encourage them to adopt a more open and free society. The reverse is true. China and other parts of Asia have almost complete control of large segments of our economy, especially computer chip manufacturing, solar power, batteries, etc.. 

Xi Jinping, the current leader of China with a new lifetime office, claims to be building “a community of common destiny for all mankind” and wants Chinese-style techno authoritarianism to be copied by countries around the world. Xi has called on people with Chinese heritage anywhere on earth, no matter their citizenship, to join together as “sons and daughters of the Yellow Emperor” who are obliged to work for the “great rejuvenation” in whatever way the party deems fit.

Taiwan country controls 55% of global chip manufacturing capacity. And there is no question that China wants them back. At the same time, they are experimenting with new ways to share government participation and decision making. Ultimate transparency reigns, with all meeting agendas and minutes posted on the internet/ They use "quadratic voting" to get the general populace input on government decisions and legislation.  

U.S. Healthcare - The United States has by far the largest healthcare costs in the world—about twice the level of most other developed nations. Our healthcare system is roughly the size of the entire French economy, but we don’t have the outcomes the French do; in fact, when ranked against other rich nations in terms of things like infant mortality, maternal mortality, and health in young people, the United States comes in toward the very bottom of the list.

Digital Banking. I had pretty much written off the bitcoin craze as a tulip bubble. She seems tremendous potential for the underlying technology to revolutionize banking. 

Hockett, who has been an adviser on some of the digital currency projects just mentioned, hopes to move toward a system of “citizen central banking,” in which everyone, whether or not they have access to a traditional bank account, can have a government-administered digital wallet. “Not only would this end the problem of the ‘unbanked’—meaning people like Chaka—but it would also make the entire process of monetary policy work better,” he says. Instead of the Fed keeping rates low in such a way that allows giant companies to run up debt paying back rich shareholders, central bankers might be able to target the flow of money more specifically to where it is most needed. Essentially, we’d have the national, digital equivalent of a shoebox bank, for all citizens. And different places could have different shoeboxes,

Local economics -  Production and distribution all local. Vertical farming, 3d printed homes, "Slow Cities". 

Food as a defense industry. DARPA is working on technology to create food from air, water and microbes as a key defense move. A more resilient economy 

Education - we need to focus on the skills needed in the coming changes - not general purpose arts degrees that burden families with education loans for decades. 

I could go on, but I trust you get the picture. Amazing collection of information. Amazing insight into how economic and political instructions work. Very positive and hopeful that we can actually make this all work. I pray that she is right. READ the book. Thanks. 

YouTube Options
For my reading challenged friends, here are a few YouTube interviews and presentations that will give you the basic gist of her work. 
In her illuminating new book, HOMECOMING: The Path to Prosperity in a Post Global World, the Financial Times Global Business Columnist Rana Foroohar shares her views on why the great globalization experiment has failed and what it really means for the US and the world economy. She joins the podcast to talk about her book, the genesis of her thesis, and chronicles her career as an international journalist for some of the world's leading financial publications. The case against big tech firms - Rana Foroohar Ways to change the world Rana Foroohar: The Rise of Finance and the Fall of American Business  Rana Foroohar: The Path to Prosperity in a Post-Global World - Commonwealth Club 

Wednesday, December 28, 2022

Earth For All: A Survival Guide for Humanity - a book report and summary

 OK - get this book. NOWEarth for All: A Survival Guide for Humanity  $10. 

The book has multiple authors, all scientists, researchers, Club of Rome, etc.

It is at once, the scariest book I have ever read, and the most optimistic I have read in decades. We might be able to actually do something about this mess we have created. The authors are very convincing about that - which is a good thing - because the alternative is, frankly, scary as hell. Further on, I go on a bit about what I found in the book, but the review posted at Amazon is as good as it gets, so here it is: 
Earth For All is both an antidote to despair and a road map to a better future. Using powerful state-of-the-art computer modeling to explore policies likely to deliver the most good for the majority of people, a leading group of scientists and economists from around the world present five extraordinary turnarounds to achieve prosperity for all within planetary limits in a single generation. Coverage includes: 

  • Results of new global modeling that indicates falling well-being and rising social tensions heighten risk of regional societal collapses
  • Two alternative scenarios – Too-Little-Too-Late vs The Giant Leap – and what they mean for our collective future
  • Five system-shifting steps that can upend poverty and inequality, lift up marginalized people, and transform our food and energy systems by 2050
  • A clear pathway to reboot our global economic system so it works for all people and the planet.

Written in an open, accessible, and inspirational style using clear language and high impact visuals, Earth For All is a profound vision for uncertain times and a map to a better future.

This survival guide for humanity is required reading for everyone concerned about living well on a fragile planet.

For another excellent review, see:

Yes, they are talking about ending poverty, ending inequality, transforming food and energy, and changing global trade and economics. They propose concrete steps to accomplish that, and they spell out the very real costs to accomplish those goals. 

And, yes, it will cost YOU something - but the price is very doable, and the ROI is immense. What it costs you is not a donation - it requires a shift in your thinking. Even if you are the wealthiest human on earth, what good does that "wealth" do if there is nothing left of the society and culture and people? Currency will not be a thing. You could put it into gold or diamonds - but those things are actually worthless trinkets if there is no social infrastructure to value them. When hundreds of millions of us need a bit of dry earth, we are not going to be polite about it. You really cannot store up enough food and water and air for a lifetime - without our help. 

Think about it a bit. 

SO; what can you do? The website has some concrete suggestions:

WE can do this - but it will take a huge change by a lot of us. Think of it as an exponential growth thing - if every one of us can engage 2 more of us - that becomes a huge multiplier. 


Tuesday, September 20, 2022

Book Report: Recapture the Rapture - A very SCARY book for me

Book Report: Recapture the Rapture: Rethinking God, Sex, and Death in a World That's Lost Its Mind by Jamie Wheal.

Remarkable Book
I found this book quite remarkable - he has read everything that I have in the past 15 years or so, but where he goes with it is really new to me. The first chapters are SCARY. Things are coming apart in our world - he cites examples I have never heard. His whole purpose is to use our latest learning from neuroanthropology and cultural architecture to craft a solution to this craziness. I wish him well on that, but I am not as positive as he is on the potential outcome

In almost every chapter I asked myself whether I would recommend this book or not!  His insights are amazing. His grasp of the recent research is amazing. Watching him talk about it, he is very, very good at this. Here's a simple video that will give you a sense of that: 
    Homegrown Humans     

This is a TED TALK about his background and his real business:  FLOW:  

The Problem with DRUGS 
Part of the problem I have is the role of psychedelics / drugs. He is not pushing it - he emphasizes that one can accomplish these humanizing experiences with just breathing and meditation. And he is very aware of the potential problems of addiction and bad experiences. That stuff really scares me. He has come to terms with them. I am just not ready to go there - my gut reaction is NO! I can feel the defenses rising in my emotions.

Meaning 3.0 and a NEW "church"
I love the idea that we might be able to raise up everyone's sense of belonging to the human race, to have empathy for others, and to work together to improve everyone's life. He does a masterful job of crafting this new kind of "social religion." He has a good handle on the history of religions, and the science about their essential elements. He understands the dangers of this - but I get the underlying fear that he is really making a killing out of all this. It feels like a much better form of "Scientology" - which is a crazy set of stuff.

The Jesus Story
BUT I think his take on Jesus is perfect - Here's a couple of quotes:

P 284 Because what is beyond doubt is that the idea of Jesus, the Jesus Meme, which includes all versions—god, man, and myth—has shaped the last two thousand years of human history more than almost any other human who has ever lived. That in itself, in all of its ambiguity, is worth a real reckoning.

P 286  Because let’s face it—Christianity has some god-awful branding problems. For the faithful, there’s still some meat on that bone. But for the unchurched, twice shy, or followers of different faiths? It’s slim pickings trying to gin up enthusiasm for a Christian revival. It would be a mistake to even try.

But it would be an even bigger mistake to scrap it entirely. The Jesus Meme has been virally replicating for two thousand years. It’s created a tremendous amount of momentum, resonance, and shared reference points recognized around the world. What sticks with me most about the story of the Nazarene has little to do with canonical scripture at all.  . . . 

The idea that a flesh-and-blood mortal could feel a burning truth inside them, and seek to share it with the world, despite the betrayal and ridicule of those they were trying to help, while having to face personal doubt, despair, and uncertainty alone? That sounded more like the human experience we all have to live through than any of the more transcendent tales I’d found elsewhere.

If you found that interesting - here's an OLD homily that I did on this topic back when I was a lay preacher. See what you think.

Bottom Line
The key to me is that the focus is on increasing our empathy, increasing the sense in all of us that we are the children of one god, that we are all of priceless value. Every single one of us. If we can somehow get that into the general consciousness, we actually have the potential to solve most of our human problems. The disparity in wealth, the absolute ego sense, that I got mine and you are not worthy of my time - that is our primary enemy. We are all doing win / lose all the time. I guess if a bit of a drug can deliver a lasting sense that "we are all in this together", I could support that. We shall see.

It is just not obvious to me how this "movement" will progress. Looking at his website, it feels more like a money making venture than a non profit.

Help me out here - if you read the book, think with me a bit about it. 

Saturday, August 13, 2022

Sapiens, by Yuval Noah Harari

 Sapiens, by Yuval Noah Harari


If you have been following along here at all, by this time you realize that my reading and thinking has been tending more and more strongly to just how humans work. Recently that has been an excursion into neuroscience and behavioral economics. Back when I started this business, I was focused on differences in culture and how that has affected nations and their economic development. Think Guns, Germs and Steel, and the like. (Jared Diamond wrote the introduction to Harari's book.) Well, a new hero has arrived. Harari is an historian - of all things. But he is a very ‘reflective’ historian. He is as well versed in Buddhist philosophy, neurological research, economics and the latest technology as anyone I have encountered. And he THINKS about things. Like - why study history!? What does progress really mean? What is human happiness? 

I have rarely encountered a book that has made me think as much as this one. He also has a follow on volume: Homo Deus. He said as he was talking to people about this history, they always asked him to project what happens next - eventually, all of those projections ended up in the later book. It is also worth your time. He also wrote 21 Lessons for the 21st Century, which I reviewed some time ago.

Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg and Barack Obama highly recommended it as well - so there’s my argument from authority. See this link.  

You will also find there a wonderful summary of the book, and  a collection of key ideas , such as this one:

"In these blinks, we will explore those key elements in human history – from the development of language to the creation of money – that have made us who we are today.
In these blinks, you’ll discover:

  • why farming actually made people worse off;

  • why writing was invented to chase up lapsed debts; and

  • why the last decades have been the most peaceful in history.”

And if all of that does not persuade you to read the book, follow along a bit more here.

Other References

If you are more of a visual and auditory person, Harari is all over YouTube with this book and his latr ones. Here is a recording of the first chapter - not sure how this works with copyright - but . . .

What Follows Here

I find that I retain information much better if I write about it, if I operate on it a bit, and try to get a personal insight into it. So the rest of this entry is my personal reflection on the key ideas I got from the book. This is primarily for my benefit, but you are welcome to follow along if you would like. 

The most amazing thing to me is how much Harari actually understands about the latest research into humanity, our brain, physiology and the like. I often think if we could just get the best of what we know together and present it to people simply, they would all be amazed and changed by that information. Well - in this book you have about 90% of what I think are the important new data from research, cast into the long term perspective of the history of humankind. Perfect. UM - the book was published several years ago - and things are moving on, but . . .

Other Species

We were not the first humanoids, nor even the latest. But something special about us helped us dominate the planet, and, in some fashion, eliminate all of the other humanoids. It is not clear whether we simply out populated them, or out competed for resources, or whether we actually exterminated them. Harari thinks that superiority comes from our ability to make up myths or stories, and to engage our fellows in the same myth so that we can cooperate. He calls it the “cognitive revolution”. Think of the “selfish gene”, and of Haidt’s “tribal gene’, or E.O Wilson’s social need. We also have a strong hierarchical tradition that worked well with that need for social binding.

Along the way, we have also eliminated thousands of other species, intentionally, or inadvertently. When humans arrived in Australia for the first time, the continent was populated with huge mammals of all types. None of them survived. We have far more domesticated animals now than there are wild animals left on the planet. We have many more domesticated dogs than wolves. We have tons of beef cattle, and only a few giraffes or rhinos left.

Harari makes a wonderful case for the emotional and conscious life of all of these other species. In my humble opinion, of we are ever to be really good stewards of the planet, we need to consider how to enhance the life of all of these other conscious entities. This value system might come in handy when we are faced with the superhuman beings or machines that we create, or the interstellar voyagers that are way beyond us. ALL life has value - ok? Thanks.


I’ve broken these down into categories rather than just following along in the book. It helps me to think. Harari is a Jewish non believer. But he is not anti-religion. He understands profoundly the power of the religious myths that humans have created. This is not an argument for atheism, or for or against any religion. It is an attempt to understand where we go when we run out of the “supernatural” myths that have sustained us for all of these years. We might look back on the ‘mistaken’ beliefs of animism, or medieval Christianity with some disdain. People in that myth lived their lives primarily to attain a heaven after this life. It gave them great meaning and purpose, energy and vision - enough to create great cathedrals, wondrous works of art and music, and encouraged them to slaughter millions of their fellow men who did not agree with their beliefs. He says that the primary religion today is “liberalism” - the myth that human beings matter, that every human life has value, that the pursuit of human development and freedom is worth any price.  We call this myth “human rights”, but this is another one that we have created. It is no better or worse in terms of human happiness than the medieval myths that we now look down on. 

Harari made me think my own path in this religion and belief business. I have been a non-believing, practicing Catholic for almost my entire life. My belief is not a myth, it is a choice. I choose to believe that human life has meaning and purpose. I choose to believe that I can further that life just a bit by living as a person in community with others, as a person trying to move human society so that everyone can participate to the fullest extent. I think that is the fundamental message of Jesus of Nazareth, and I am committed to helping with that. That does not mean that I think that Jesus has the only good words, or the only way to truth. He has a very good message that resonates with me, and I choose to make that part of my life’s purpose. I choose to believe that the best outcome for all humans will come from a system of belief and laws and rights that that understands that we are all interdependent, that each one of us prospers or fails with every other one of us. I choose to believe that a social system structured on that premise would give the maximum benefit to all humans, and would also be the most effective and efficient. If Harari calls that “liberalism”, so be it.


The book has a wonderful summary of Buddhism as a philosophy, not a religion. I opt to call that mindfulness, just to distinguish it from any religious overtone. The key idea here is to live in the moment - to experience the life we have right now. If it is pain, or joy - live in it, think about it, experience it. The key Buddhist insight is that to avoid ALL pain, it is necessary to let go of yearning, whether that is for joy or to avoid pain. Be aware of the now - do not strive to hold on to the joy, nor to avoid the pain. Life is what life is. Be thoughtful, be aware, but do not get carried away by the current fashion, or mode, or whatever. You are the only you that you will ever be. Think, experience, decide based on your life, not on the crowd, not on the short term passion of emotion.

Global Unification

One positive note in all of this - Harari sees the LONG arc of human history as clearly pushing toward global unification. In a sense, we have already arrived there. For a multitude of reasons, we are living in one of the most peaceful periods of human history. The small skirmishes that we are currently experiencing are nothing compared to the centuries of warfare that we have waged on each other. As I write this in 2022 - several years after I read the book - it does feel like the wheels are coming off a bit.

We shall see. Stay Safe. We are all in this together, and I'm pulling for you.

Wednesday, August 10, 2022

Freakonomics on abortion, crime and unwanted children

 Freakonomics on abortion, crime and unwanted children

I learned a lot of things from a recent podcast, and had a very empathic experience - rare and valuable. I thought others might also enjoy the insights I learned.

Freakonomics #384 

There is also a transcript, if you are more inclined to that mode of learning.

To further entice you, here is a short outline.

  1. Roe V Wade was a major factor in a significant reduction in crime. Roe v Wade had a major impact on our world - reducing crime enormously. Many factors were at work in that period, but the major one was reducing the number of “unwanted children’ by the millions. Steven Levitt, professor of economics at the University of Chicago, and John Donohue, professor of law at Stanford Law School, published a research paper to prove that.

  2. The original paper had a flaw. The paper was criticized for all manner of reasons. A pair of economists found that one of their tables was not correct. This led to a lot of public bashing in the press to discredit the results. The authors corrected the paper, and the result further confirmed their thesis.

  3. Removal of lead in gasoline also had an impact on crime about the same time. In a totally separate effort, Jessica Wolpaw Reyes, professor of economics at Amherst College, did a research paper showing that the removal of lead from gasoline and the atmosphere had a similar effect on crime during the same period, as well as many other positive impacts. The original paper was enhanced with this data - and further confirmed the original hypothesis. 

  4. The result is NOT an argument that abortion should be legal. If you believe that a fertilized egg or a fetus is a human person, taking a million of their lives every year to save the 6,000 victims of their crimes 20 years later, is simply not a good moral argument. Levitt is very clear on that and you should be too.

  5. BUT  “unwanted children” is a very bad thing. It is very clear that “unwanted children” are a major problem in our society and our world. They make up the largest portion of our dangerous criminals. But even more importantly, these millions of tiny people have terrible lives. 

  6. These are OUR children - and we can fix this. This is not a pipe dream. The Covid Relief Child Tax Credit was a major step in this direction. But it was not renewed in the most recent legislative compromises. The cost is very doable - the benefit to the lives of ALL of us is enormous.

  7. Love your kids!  As Levitt says, the key thing he learned is that he should LOVE his children. Discipline and learning are important, but make sure they know you love them - really. That is the real bottom line.

  8. Advice for Politicians: Do NOT argue with people about the morality of abortion. It just reinforces their beliefs and commitment. Instead, give us all a picture, a plan to create a world with no “unwanted children”. How can we best do that for the benefit of all of us - and especially for the benefit of those children? It is clear that we all want this outcome - but some of us have been persuaded that this is simply impossible. NOT TRUE. Some of our European friends have figured it out. Our mental “caste” view of our world seems to be in the way. We think the people on the bottom are somehow not deserving - not capable. That is simply wrong.

We can do this. Listen to the podcast. Thanks. 

We are ALL in this together, and we are counting on you.

Thursday, July 21, 2022

Soup Night - Building Community - one small group at a time

Building Community - piece by piece, bowl by bowl

A friend sent me this piece by Joan Chittister from January of this year.

The author is a Catholic Sister or Nun - quite engaged, a writer, speaker, etc. She is shocked at our nation's failure to create community. We seem to be falling apart at the seams. But we seem really short on ideas for fixing the problem. 

I have spent the last few years reading and writing about how we failed humans operate or fail to operate. There's not much I can do about our fearless leaders - Sister Joan seems quite upset with them. 

I donate a few dollars. I support some of our local politicians - and sometimes they actually listen to my concerns. But for the national level, my only real contact in my whole life has been to thank three sitting US. Senators for their service on our behalf: Rudy Boschwitz, Paul Wellstone and Al Franken. I have met Norm Coleman but he was not a Senator then. And I was once in the same room with  Hubert Humphrey, and then once with Walter Mondale - the latter was a REALLY big room - an airplane hanger. 

They all seemed to appreciate the thought, but  . . . my ability to influence that whole process is non existent. I am worried about it, but  . . . what can I really do?

What I can do is reach out to my neighbors, and get to know them. Our neighborhood is mostly retired folk. We lean a bit progressive, but a lot of us fy U.S. flags night and day and vote conservative. We represent a broad spectrum of religions: None, to Buddhist and Catholic and Baptist.  We have a little racial diversity. This is my community, and we helped create it. 

In 2014, my lovely wife and I were driving to "the lake", and we heard a book review on NPR. It was about this book: Soup Night - Recipes for Creating Community Around a Pot of Soup. I never bought a copy of the book, an I feel bad about that, because we owe the author a round of thanks. 

Because of that book review, we live in the best neighborhood in town. All of our neighbors say that this is the best neighborhood they have ever lived in. I know them all by name. I know some of their kids, grandkids, friends. If I need a tool, or a long ladder, I know who has one. If I need a hand, I have many friends to call on. If I go to their door, they always greet me warmly. Some exchange small gifts of baked goods for holidays. We have supported folks with serious illness. We have banded together to get a group discount on window washing, or vent cleaning

After our immediate family and our church friends, this is our community. We value these people, We respect them and their values and opinions. We are not about trying to change them. We are certainly not in competition with them. If I need some help, I know where to look. If someone is messing around with the neighbor's car or garage, I will certainly challenge them. My neighbor would have let me know that someone was going to be there while they were gone.

We think that cities and neighborhoods work better when people actually get to know each other.    
(See Bowling Alone, by Robert Putnam.)

The author suggested that we use some simple rules:

  • SOUP and bread period – nothing fancy. Well, we do have a brat guy, an a pizza chef.
  • 3rd Sunday of the month. BUT the volunteer host can change that if they want.
  • 5:00 pm to 7:00 pm – it’s nice to have a clear ending time. People DO leave at 7:00! 
  • SOMEONE needs to send a reminder email a week or so ahead to remind people. 
  • Let the host know if you can make it – so they can plan on quantities.
  • Take turns – we posted a sign-up sheet at the first soup night, and people volunteered.
         Repost the sheet for each event. 
  • No big deal if someone cannot make it on occasion.
  • The first time, we asked guests to bring their own BOWL!   
    (The idea was to cut down on cleanup chores!)      We eventually dropped that.

    Give it a shot – it costs almost nothing, and it gives real benefits. And it might be contagious. 

    Let me know how that goes.

    Monday, July 4, 2022

    WorldView or Cultural Psychology - the way humans work

     WorldView or Cultural Psychology - the way humans work

    The King of Sweden Story and WorldView

    If you have been following along here, you would know that since I visited Tanzania in 2000 I have been fascinated by the idea that we humans are walking around with a kind of “framework” or “worldview” in our heads that dominates how we “think” about things. My best example is this story of the King of Sweden. In 1988, he was trying to buy presents for his family in a department store in Stockholm - and he wanted to write a check. The clerk would not take his check without a “check card.” In Sweden, the king is just not a big deal. Their culture, their worldview of social hierarchy is very flat. That is not conscious, and it does not change easily. You can find that story in Hoffstede’s book, Cultures and Organizations, Software of the Mind. It is still a great read. I also wrote extensively about it in this earlier post:

    Cultural Psychology

    In the intervening years since I discovered this, thanks to some pioneers, one of them being Geert Hofstede, this idea has become a whole field of scientific research called “cultural psychology”. I think this has enormous potential to help us understand our whole world of politics, economics, and the like. We might even be able to make a few changes to improve things. You can get a quick overview of what this field is from this Freakonomics Radio podcast episode #469. 

    The U.S. Is Just Different: 

    There is a transcript if you are of the “reading” mindset, and not of the “listening”. There is also a bibliography. Geert Hofstede’s son is cited, as well as Joe Heinrich (The Weirdest People)  whom I have cited here in the past. 

    Tight vs Loose

    This episode introduces Michele Gelfand, a scientist studying cultural psychology. They talk mostly about one cultural dimension: tight vs loose. In a “tight” culture, rules are very important, and must be followed. Laws are strict, are strictly enforced, hierarchy and position are important, authority is unquestioned, etc. You might see that as all positive, but in a “loose” culture, people are much more creative, innovative, risk taking, progressive. California is the “loosest” state in our very “loose” United States. 

    Her book is Rule Makers, Rule Breakers How Tight and Loose Cultures Wire Our World 9/11/2018. Her team of scientists have generated 9 volumes of studies in this field: Handbook of Advances in Culture and Psychology: Volume 9   2022  $85.

    This is Amazon’s blurb on this annual collection: 

    With applications throughout the social sciences, culture and psychology is a rapidly growing field that has experienced a surge in publications over the last decade. From this proliferation of books, chapters, and journal articles, exciting developments have emerged in the relationship of culture to cognitive processes, human development, psychopathology, social behavior, organizational behavior, neuroscience, language, marketing, and other topics. In recognition of this exponential growth, Advances in Culture and Psychology is the first annual series to offer state-of-the-art reviews of scholarly research in the growing field of culture and psychology.

    This is a BIG DEAL

    IMHO this is a very big deal. I have been reading behavioral economics, the neuroscience of politics, and the psychology of tribal grouping and the like - and these folks have given this a deeper perspective. I think this opens a door to research to better understand how our human world actually works. The first step to changing something is to understand what is actually going on.

    Culture and Diversity Within Individuals and Nations

    Let’s be very clear on this - every individual has a personal and unique worldview or cultural psychology. It comes from your whole life history - family, peers, cultural milieu. You can change it, but only with a lot of effort. This  is your “fast brain” - the worldview that your brain uses most of the time. It is difficult to get your “slow brain” to pay attention to it, and potentially move it a bit. But that will only work for you as an individual. As the author says in the podcast:

    Within countries, there is of course enormous variation. There are plenty of looser people in tight countries and vice versa. But remember what Hofstede told us:

    HOFSTEDE: You’re like one drop in the Mississippi River. You may decide to go another way, but that doesn’t make the river change. 

    Other Dimensions than Tight / Loose

    Hofstede actually came up with 5 dimensions initially, and added a 6th with further research. Some scholars have added a few additional ones. (Nickerson)

    Hofstede’s initial six key dimensions include power distance, uncertainty avoidance, individualism-collectivism, masculinity-femininity, and short vs. long-term orientation. Later researchers added restraint vs. indulgence to this list. 

    There are probably thousands of these influences in our brains, but we need to simplify things down to the range of 6 categories or so in order to get a handle on them. Gelfand’s tight / loose is very similar to Hofstede’s masculinity-femininity. He sometimes called it hard / soft. I find all of them to be very helpful to understand human behavior. I think there are a few more I would like to see researched in more depth, such as the one described below: “In-charge”.

    The In-Charge WorldView

    I would add one that I found in East Africa which I would call “being in charge of life”, or the In-Charge view. I am still kind of amazed that it even exists and the power it has to alter our behavior.. It is an excellent example of what we are talking about. These worldviews or cultural psychological persuasions affect every decision that we make, and we are virtually unconscious of them. I have written at some length in the blog entry cited above, but here is a short story - about a rope swing.  

    In 2000, my son and I were visiting a good friend, a missionary in Africa. One of his volunteers, a Mennonite from Canada (an interesting cultural mix), made a simple rope swing for the kids in the school. He tied a rope to a board, and hung it from a tree. The kids loved it. I found it interesting that no one had ever made one before. One day the kids pushed it really hard, and it got stuck up in the branches. He said he thought he would wait and see what happened. That swing was up in that tree for 4 months. The kids would stop and look at it, and lament that they had no swing. They saw him put it up there, and they could probably climb the tree to get it back down. But they did not! Why

    We had another instance of the same worldview when the water stopped. This small place, near Endulen,Tanzania, is home to several hundred Masaai. Their water came from a single pipe that ran a mile from the hospital. The hospital was built 30 years prior by the Belgians, and they installed a generator, a well, and a single pipe to provide water to this small community. One day, we walked over from the hospital and people told us: “The water stopped. No water.” Well, we had showered that morning, so we were sure the well was working. I asked what happened. They said, “The water stopped”. My first reaction was - let’s go see what’s up with it. So I asked, had it stopped in the past? They said, “Yes. Sometimes the pipe is broken.” I asked what they were going to do for water. They said they would walk down to the stream and fill jars with water, and carry them back up - about a half a mile. And that they only took water from the upper part of the stream, above the dam that the British built way back. The water on the other side of the dam was for the animals to drink. It seemed very clear that no one was going to go try to fix the water pipe? Why?

    My simplistic conclusion, based on just this tiny bit of empirical evidence, is that the culture which I grew up in tells me that I am in charge of life. It tells me that I am in charge of the planet. If something is broken, or needs attention, I can do that. If I come upon a toilet running anywhere in the world, I will lift the lid and fix it. My culture thinks we can install a democracy anywhere in the world - no problem. East African culture seems to have a worldview that they are NOT in charge of life. Life to them is something that happens to you. I do not know the roots of that, but it might go back to hundreds of thousands of years of basically hunting / gathering. Food shows up - or it does not. Diseases come and go. You can invoke spirits and shamans - but doing anything else simply does not occur to you. They know exactly what causes AIDS, but they take almost no steps to avoid getting it. They are not lazy - they work very hard just to stay alive. But it does not occur to them that they are in charge of things. 

    The swing appeared. The water appeared. And then it was gone. Too bad, so sad.

    They are taught how HIV is passed on, but they do almost nothing to avoid it. When we were there, 40% of the people who presented themselves for treatment in the hospital were HIV positive. 

    It is still difficult for me to understand that there is a whole culture that thinks that life is something that happens to you. In Nicaragua, based on personal observation, I think the prevailing view is that “someone else is in charge of life”. It is the boss, the government, the army, the northamerians - someone else - not me. 

    A Behavioral Scientist / Science

    Popular articles describe this approach as Behavioral Psychology, or characterize the practitioners as Behavioral Scientists. It seems to be an interesting outgrowth of “behavioral economics”, thank you Daniel Kahneman.

    Sources of Culture

    A cultural psychology of worldview forms over hundreds of years. The podcast says that threats give rise to a more tight culture. They can be climate, weather, war, things of that ilk. There is some research into what weather and environment have contributed to various cultures. My personal theory is that the Scandinavians like our Swedish king are unique for a combination of reasons. They live in the far north. They had to pull together just to survive the winters. AND they were never part of the Roman Empire or Holy Roman Empire. No one ever bestowed on them a leader that was ordained or designated by any higher power. When they wanted a king, they went to France to find a member of a royal family.

    Similarly, Costa Rica has a very different culture than most of Latin America. Hoffstede’s theory is that it was mostly populated by families with Jewish heritage that fled the Spanish persecution of Judaism. The Muslim government had no probem with Jews back then. When the Catholics took over, you had best become Christian.

    Neither Side is Best - Both are Needed

    By the way, Gelfand doesn’t really take a position on whether loose or tight is superior. She argues that both styles have their upsides and their downsides. A loose country, like the U.S., tends to do well in creativity and innovation; in tolerance and openness; in free speech and a free press. The downsides of looseness are less coordination, less self-control; more crime and quality-of-life problems.

    Cultural Change through Backlash

    The podcast talks about the former Communist regimes in Eastern Europe. Under Soviet domination, their whole world was forced to be “tight”. Everything was controlled from the top down, rules were absolute, etc. When those governments were overthrown, the reaction of the populace was to go to the other extreme. Those cultures now are very “loose”. Ukraine is one prime example. The pendulum swings - and that is hopeful for the U.S. culture at some point. 

    A Light in the Tunnel

    When I first ran into this idea, I found it just remarkable. It seems amazing that our decisions can be profoundly shaped by psychological tendencies in our brain, in our culture, below our level of awareness. Daniel Kahneman’s work explained some of the psychological tendencies for this. Thaler applied the idea to economics to give us Behavior Economics. Now this new field of science, behavioral cultural psychology, holds the promise to help us understand it more fully. I have to read more to see if this can actually help us understand how we might manage this a little better to help us move forward.

    Diversity Reigns

    My gut, my “fast brain” thinks that the ultimate answer is that “Diversity Is King”. When one world view dominates, we tend to miss a lot of perspectives and opportunities. It would be like having one religion, one language, one way of thinking. Each dimension of cultural difference brings some strengths and some problems. I doubt that we could ever artificially create a common global or even national culture that would serve us in all instances. 

    Today, we are separated by national borders, so that a country’s culture remains somewhat uniform and static over time. I think one of the secret weapons of the U.S. culture has been our relatively open borders. We have welcomed many different cultures. They tend to blend after a few generations, but their influence is felt even a hundred years later. See the book: American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America, by Colin Woodard.

    If the world eventually breaks down our political borders, it would behoove us to foster cultural differences within our nation states. Enclaves, family groups, self selecting townships - whatever works. Think company cultures, neighborhood cultures. We should be looking for a wide variety of people to work on all of our problems. The more diverse their cultural background, the more likely their strengths will pull together, and not their weaknesses.


    Popular articles on the topic can be found here: 

    Nickerson, Charlotte, Hofstede’s Cultural Dimensions Theory, 2022.05.02.
    This is a nice summary of Hofstede’s original work, and some additions by others. 

    OK. Enough for now. I’ll be back in a bit when I have read the book. Until then - Stay Safe. And spend a few minutes actually THINKING about this stuff - with your slow brain. Thanks for that.