From 2000-2200, the customs of the Nacirema tribe shifted considerably. At the start of the 21st century, they were leaders of a pan-capitalist ideological superstructure. But as the decades unfurled, their monolithic stature dissipated into the Networked Human Organism.
Their Industrial Age individualism had built a globalized world, which was connected by the internet and fed by fossil fuels. But their self-focus no longer fit modern times. The climate crisis of the 21st century forced them to think more holistically and collectively. In parallel, The Five Pandemics reminded them of their interconnectedness to each other and to the earth.
The Nacirema's unique psychological complex had been built in the 2nd millennium with the rise of voluntary centralized institutions built on impersonal trust: companies, nation-states, and universities. The internet completely dismantled these institutions, just as those institutions had previously dismantled kin-based lineages.
These new digitally-native networks were built on a supercharged form of impersonal trust made possible by code and financial well-being. In parallel, these digital institutions shifted value capture flows away from Industrial Age structures. Systems need money to perpetuate themselves, and the old structures began to run out of (literal) steam.
Near the end of the 21st century, the Nacirema's WEIRD psychology had spread to the rising Nacirfa and Naisa tribes, whose populations far exceeded Nacirema's. And also, a post-WEIRD psychology was forming—one that emphasized collective holism. This post-WEIRD psychology was evolutionarily fit for global digital institutions in an unstable age.
The moralizing gods invented near 0 CE were no longer evolutionarily fit either. Over the course of centuries, science had slowly broken them down. Now, the Nacirema primarily engaged with Presentist practices that self-constructed meaning. Some practices were personal and internal like meditation and psychedelics. Some practices were collective and external like regularly celebrating the sustainability of the Networked Human Organism. A variety of spiritual practices emerged around the Optimistic Nihilism complex.
By 2200, post-WEIRD psychology had shifted our understanding of personality as well. The BIG-5 had dominated the Industrial Age. But in the Information Age, we saw the rise of the BIG-7, which added humility and abstraction. In addition, the financial freedom of UBI birthed creative freedom, which was expressed through a variety of complex personality characteristics. By 2100, everyone on earth was at Sustenance Level 4, and by 2200, everyone was at Level 5. This financial freedom gives modern day Nacirema the flexibility to exist in constant multiplicity.
One final note on self-domestication: Homo sapiens have been domesticating themselves and other species for millions of years. In the Industrial Age, this self-domestication was expressed by turning violent physical competition into abstract market competition. In the Information Age, this self-domestication went further in two ways. First, self-domestication to stay in alignment with nature and machines. (For example, the transition to renewable energy.) Second, the self-domestication of collective benefit was codified into institutions. This was perhaps one of the biggest shifts. In the early 2000s, Nacirema companies were controlled by few people and were even in direct competition with others that shared their same goals! For example, Nike would try to gain a monopoly to put Adidas out of business, and vice versa. But by 2200, all companies had placed themselves in superstructures that were optimized around shared purpose (e.g. the "Good Shoes Superstructure"). These superstructures outcompeted old organizations.
And here is a excerpt of an interview with a native Nacirema around 2200:
"I co-exist simultaneously as an individual and as a node in the collective. I meet my own needs first but am constantly searching to help the sustainability of the human species. I see the world holistically as a network of complex systems and feedback loops. But I also break them down into their component parts to try and represent them in code. As they say: 'The machine is greater than the sum of its parts. But it is still a machine.' I am in constant dialogue with the Networked Human Organism. I exist in multiplicity, and as a node in the network."
I recently wrote a book review of Joseph Henrich's book The WEIRDest People in the World: How the West Became Psychologically Peculiar and Particularly Prosperous.
In it, he explains why the West is more individualistic and analytical than the East. But he doesn't explore what will happen in the future. The above passage is an attempt to portray a fake anthropological account of what will happen to the American (Nacirema) people in a future 2200 scenario.
I explore this in more detail below.
First, a reminder of Henrich's thesis for why the West became more individualistic: Around 500 CE, the Catholic Church broke down kin-based structures. Voluntary organizations based on impersonal trust took their place—things like merchant's guilds and universities. In these impersonal organizations, it was helpful to display a clear, consistent self. This was in contrast to kin-based structures, where your contextual role in the lineage was more important. And thus, the rise of individualism in the West. (Which was then manifest and reinforced by the Protestant Reformation and the Industrial Revolution.)
I'll now explore a series of questions related to the future of human psychology:
- I. How will WEIRD psychology spread to developing countries?
- II. What will a post-WEIRD psychology look like?
- III. How will digital technology change our psychology?
- IV. What is the next step in self-domesticated competition?
- V. What about sex?
I. How Will WEIRD Psychology Spread in Developing Countries?
We know that Western folks have a more individualist and WEIRD psychology. And we know that voluntary institutions (like companies, universities, and states) were both produced by and reinforce this psychology. We would expect the spread of voluntary institutions in the East to create a more individualistic psychology. And indeed, that is what we see. In China, for example, non-unique name characters are becoming less frequent:
More generally, we can look at the Inglehart–Welzel cultural map to see this trend across many countries. This map is based on the World Values Survey, which asked millions of people around the world about their values. The map below collapses this survey into two dimensions: survival vs. self-expression values and traditional vs. secular values. You can see the 1984 version of the map below:
As you can see, more developed Protestant countries rate higher on self-expression and secular values. Over time, traditionally kin-based societies move up and to the right. As they note on the World Values Survey website:
Following an increase in standards of living, and a transit from development country via industrialization to post-industrial knowledge society, a country tends to move diagonally in the direction from lower-left corner (poor) to upper-right corner (rich), indicating a transit in both dimensions.
This produces a 2014 map below, which is slightly shifted up and to the right (compared to 1984):
You can see a time-lapse of this map from 1981-2014 here.
Over the rest of the 21 century, as incomes increase, voluntary institutions spread, and kin-based structures recede, I'd expect the map to shift more and more into the top-right corner.
Adding population to this analysis: The world currently has 8B people: 1B in the Americas, 1B in Europe, 1B in Africa, and 5B in Asia. By 2100, there will be 11B people and the new 3B will all be in Africa (for 4B total there).
There were roughly 500M people in the world around 1500, almost none of which were WEIRD. Now there are 8B people, and roughly 1-2B are WEIRD. In 2100, there will be 11B people and I'd estimate 5B of them to have a more individualistic WEIRD-like psychology.
To conclude: individualistic WEIRDness will continue to spread as voluntary institutions shape the psychology of Eastern and developing nations.
II. What Will Post-WEIRD Psychology Look Like?
Before voluntary institutions, many humans lived in kin-based structures and had a psychology that was more collectivist and holistic. We then developed a proto-WEIRD psychology from 500-1500 that led to a WEIRD psychology from 1500-2000. What kind of psychology will we have from 2000-2500? What will a post-WEIRD psychology look like?
I'd argue that our post-WEIRD psychology will move the pendulum back away from hyper individualism and analytical thinking. We'll become more collectivist and holistic in our thinking.
Collectivism is necessary in the face of climate change and other global problems. We are a globalized networked species now. And we need to move from Now Me to Future Us. (Roote Pillar #4: Bentoism)
Holistic thinking is necessary to understand our increasingly interconnected world. We need to be aware of our impacts on complex human and natural systems. (Roote Pillar #1: Systems and Roote Pillar #2: Networkism)
In other words: it's tough to be so individualistic and analytical when modern society requires collectivist and holistic thinking.
However, I want to add an additional prediction here—that our psychology will become more Coherently Plural (Roote Pillar #3). As an example, we will become both more individualistic and collectivist. The internet makes it more clear that we're just part of the collective of 8B people. And at the same time we're incentivized to develop a personal monopoly to find our internet niche. It's both, and that's ok.
The other way to view this question is: What will the future dimensions of personality be? WEIRDness created the BIG-5, which has 5 orthogonal dimensions that can be put in 2^5 = 32 combinations. The BIG-5 is not hardwired into our brains—it is a result of WEIRD psychology and institutions, and so we could more accurately call it the WEIRD-5. If we're moving to a post-WEIRD psychology, what will happen to the WEIRD-5?
My primary hypothesis here is that we'll see an increase in the number of possible states. Voluntary orgs and the Industrial Revolution created many psychological niches that weren't possible in a kin-based agrarian society. These were later expressed as BIG-5 traits. With the internet and increased financial freedom (from UBI), we will see more psychological niches arise.
I'd expect the current five WEIRD-5 traits to continue. (i.e. Their evolutionary niches will continue to have fitness during the Information Age.) One possible sixth trait is Honesty-Humility, as proposed by the HEXACO model. I would also predict an Analytical vs. Holistic trait that balances concrete thinking with abstract systems thinking (similar to Intuitive vs. Sensing in Myers-Briggs).
III. How Does Digital Technology Change Our Psychology?
We know that Industrial Era institutions were birthed by and reinforced our WEIRD psychology. How will Information Era technology and institutions change our psychology?
We are just at the beginning of understanding how the internet affects our psychology. On one end, you have "medium is the message" arguments spurred by the 2008 article Is Google Making Us Stupid? These folks claim that the internet is reducing our ability to concentrate and stopping us from deep reading. There's also an ongoing debate around the impact of screen time on children. These studies show that "screen time" generally has no real effect, but social media specifically has a large effect on the mental health of teenage girls in particular.
And also, there are the more macro impacts of the internet on our institutions: the polarization of political parties, the rise of networked nonviolent protest, the downfall of traditional media, the rise of distributed trust, and others.
It's important to differentiate these two impacts, just as we can differentiate between how the printing press rewired our brains and how the printing press catalyzed new institutions that then rewired our brains.
My primary prediction is similar to my post-WEIRD predictions in section II: that we will see a rise in collective and holistic thought. Networked digital technology is a natural fit for these ways of thinking.
In addition, we are seeing a revolution in impersonal trust, from Industrial Age centralized trust to Information Age distributed trust:
Distributed trust requires more specific individualization (by turning oneself into an API that is legible to code). It will simultaneously increase collective capacity, by allowing trust with anyone including anonymous internet accounts. New institutions built on distributed trust and zero marginal cost info will outcompete centralized institutions.
In conclusion: digital tech is a fit for collective holistic thought, and will create new networked institutions that are a manifestation of this psychology.
IV. What is the Next Step in Self-Domesticated Competition?
In kin-based societies, the intergroup competition was often violent. It's difficult to remember just how intense it was. Here are two passages from Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World that show this intensity:
Jamuka then boiled seventy young male captives alive in cauldrons, a form of death that would have destroyed their souls and thus completely annihilated them.
Belgutei seized Buri’s shoulders and mounted his rump like a horse, and upon receiving a signal from Temujin, he plunged his knee into Buri’s back and snapped his spinal cord. Belgutei then dragged Buri’s paralyzed body outside the camp, leaving him to die alone.
During the Industrial Age, we self-domesticated intergroup competition away from physical violence towards market competition. (While of course continuing to be quite violent, e.g. slavery, WWI, WWI.)
During the Information Age, I expect us to self-domesticate one step further—to blur the notions of self vs. other and move away from win-lose games. Instead of simply shifting the domain of win-lose competition from the physical (violent wars) to the abstract (financial markets), we will shift away from win-lose competition as a category.
This is possible because of financial abundance and necessary because of our increasing interdependence. We will see a continued rise in self-taxing and more collaborative (rather than competitive) org structures.
V. What About Sex?
One of the most important leverage points of cultural evolution is sex (and associated marriage structures). Kin-based societies used polygyny and cousin marriage to increase clan size. The Catholic Church broke kin-based structures by outlawing polygyny and cousin marriage. What will happen to sex and its corresponding norms/institutions in the Information Age?
I'm the most unsure of this section. But here are two trains of competing thoughts:
- We'll see more monogamy. This will come as a reaction against the fluid complexity and uncertainty of modern times. As everything else dissolves into networks, we'll see "stable diads" emerge.
- We'll see more polyamory. Part of this will be driven by a substitute for community as third spaces have gone away. And part will be driven by the increase of self-expression and freedom as a value. After many centuries of outlawing marriage between multiple people, we'll see new poly norms codified into law (e.g. Somerville, June 2020).
Though to be honest, I think that the importance of sex and kin will continue to decrease in the next few centuries. (Just as is did in since 0 CE.)
Henrich doesn't explore how our individualistic WEIRD psychology will spread or evolve in the coming centuries. I think individualistic WEIRD psychology will spread to Africa and Asia, and I think we'll see a post-WEIRD psychology that is more collectivist and holistic. This collectivist holistic thinking will be institutionalized into digital networks, which will outcompete the voluntary organizations of the Industrial Age.
- I might want to call something where we're aware of the individual and the collective a form of New Libertarianism.
- Part of this is a prediction of what will happen, though part of it is what I want to happen. They're both important questions. e.g. What do you want human psychology to look like in 2200? (i.e. When research subjects answer the question: "draw yourself and your community", I want WEIRD folks to draw a small individual as a part of a larger system!)
- Another aspect of tech is biotech. That may completely warp all of my predictions here.
- Something I didn't answer here is how will new decentralized institutions outcompete centralized voluntary institutions. The Church's MFP broke kin-based structures by destroying their ability to reproduce (no more poly) and sustain themselves (inheritance to church not clan). This gave voluntary institutions the space to form (with desire from individuals to meet their needs, which were no longer met by crumbling kin-based orgs). How will Industrial Age institutions crumble? What is their Achille's heel? It's easy to see how code-based institutions (GAFA) are redirecting money to Info Age networks. ...But what about the other part of their reproduction function?
- I like viewing patrilineal clans from a New Institutional Economics perspective—like markets, companies, etc., as an institution that coordinates and motivates (and competes at the group level).
- This is all one big reinforcing feedback loop where individualism begets individualism. Catholic Church --> Voluntary Orgs --> Proto-WEIRD --> Protestant Church --> Industrial Rev --> Neoliberalism. I think the loop is over now though.
- I wish there was clearer research on how digital tech was shaping our psychology. It's too focused on addiction, tech ruining relationships, etc.
- Language plays an important role here. We should try to switch the naming of discoveries away from individuals and towards their underlying processes / team of people that discovered them. Even something like PayPal Mafia is a good protoexample here.
- Religion and spirituality is crucial as well. I like to this of this as "what are the current sacralizations of the post-WEIRD psychology?" (Like Protestantism was a sacralization of WEIRD psychology.)
- I don't think Henrich puts nearly enough emphasis on how important "the afterlife" was on the Church's rise. This is what allowed them to get so much money. By promising infinity life in an afterlife. Super tough to battle vs. that.
- Modern tech folks are trying to compete here with life-extension tech and cryonics.
- Presentism competes here by expanding the "value" of day-to-day life. (Instead of extending x-axis, make y-axis magnitude larger.)
- Roam here: https://roamresearch.com/#/app/rhys/page/ZK3JbBn4K