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Is WEIRDness a Personality Trait? I Propose Yes.

WEIRD and non-WEIRD thinking have existed at least since Plato and Aristotle. 
This suggests they’re something more than mere cultural constructs.  I suggest cognitive style is a personality trait, or something akin to it.

These animated stories about capitalism illustrate the two main cognitive styles, as does practically every other book or article that seeks to understand and explain the psychology behind one, the other, or both, of the two main styles.  A few examples:

The Cave and the Light: Plato Versus Aristotle, and the Struggle for the Soul of Western Civilization,
The Republican Brain: The Science of Why They Deny Science- and Reality,
The Anti-Capitalistic Mentality,
What Makes People Vote Republican?,
Moral Psychology and the Misunderstanding of Religion,
The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion,
A Conflict of Visions: Ideological Origins of Political Struggles,
The Great Debate: Edmund Burke, Thomas Paine, and the Birth of Right and Left,
The Weirdest People in the World,

All of the above, and many more, are like the different stories told by the characters in the fable of the blind men and the elephant, in which each blind man encounters a different part of the elephant; the tail, a leg, the side, an ear, the tusk, the trunk.  The men can’t agree on the true nature of the animal they encountered, when in fact they simply encountered different aspects of the same elephant.  In this case the elephant is the personality trait of cognitive style.  There are two types.  They’ve been hiding in plain sight all this time.

Among the aspects of the WEIRD cognitive style are greater tendencies toward Plato’s idealism, rationalism, epistemic arrogance, exception seeking, victimhood, and importantly, the lack of a limiting principle.  The glass is always half empty and it’s always somebody else’s fault. No matter the circumstances there’s ALWAYS something “wrong” that must be “fixed,” and, as Sowell describes, there’s always a solution. This cognitive style tends toward abstract, “reason”-based, pedantic, plodding, mechanical, world full of objects some of which happen to walk around on two legs, analyses.

Among the aspects of the non-WEIRD cognitive style are greater tendencies toward Aristotle’s empiricism, intuitionism, epistemic humility, tradeoff seeking, personal responsibility, and, importantly the limiting principle of “perfect is the enemy of good.”   The glass is always partly empty and partly full, and, as Sowell describes, there’s usually no such thing as a solution, but rather tradeoffs between costs and benefits.  This cognitive style tends toward synergistic, reason AND intuition combined, sagacious, world full of relationships, Analects-style, analyses.

Ideologies aren’t primarily sets of values, principles, and beliefs.  They’re primarily predispositions toward one or the other of the WEIRD and non-WEIRD mental algorithms, or cognitive styles, from which values, principles and beliefs follow.  The left’s blind spot and the conservative advantage are natural and nearly inevitable consequences of the WEIRD and non-WEIRD configurations of brain wiring.

Cognitive style and moral foundations are separate aspects of social cognition. The WEIRD style correlates strongly with the all-individualizing, all the time, moral matrix. The non-WEIRD style correlates with individualizing-binding tradeoff-based moral matrix.

I even suggest that those moral matrices tend to follow from those cognitive styles.

But not always.  The one-foundation moral matrix sometimes DOES combine with non-WEIRD Aristotelian cognition.  For evidence I submit people like Jon Haidt, Liz Joyner (Liz runs The Village Square), and Jonathan Rauch.

The reality of human nature is that it is NOT a world full of objects.  It is in fact a complex system – an ensemble of intertwined factors that behaves in ways not predicted by the component objects.  It is nothing if not an infinite variety of constantly changing, action and reaction, relationships.  It is more accurately understood and described via Analects.

It’s not an accident or a coincidence that non-WEIRD philosophers since Edmund Burke, David Hume, Adam Smith, etc., have a greater tendency to “get” WEIRD thinking, and human nature, and that “WEIRD philosophers since Kant and Mill” have tended to NOT “get,” non-WEIRD thinking and human nature.



  1. Pingback: The Psychological Components of Ideology and Morality | The Independent Whig - January 20, 2017

  2. Pingback: The School of Athens | The Independent Whig - October 29, 2016

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