How the Modern West Is WEIRDER than the Rest of the World

Not a True Represenation

This is an acronym that I’ve drawn from and slightly adapted from a psychologist called Joseph Henrich. He introduced the term about ten or fifteen years ago, and he said that people in the modern West are WEIRD: Western, educated, industrialized, rich, and democratic.

And I then added ex-Christian and Romantic, which are two words which interest me but which describe less the political and economic circumstances of modern people and more the ideological and religious convictions of modern people, which I also think are important and which I know that Henrich actually believes to some degree as well because of the way he tells this story.

Remaking the World

Andrew Wilson

In this skillfully researched book, Andrew Wilson explains how 7 historic events in 1776 shaped today’s post-Christian West and equips believers to share God’s truth in the current social landscape.

And so I find that a really helpful way of thinking about who we are. It’s interesting that he was a psychologist who came across it—and other psychologists have found it helpful—because what they found was they were doing experiments and learning psychological research outcomes by interviewing people who live near research institutions in American cities.

Students who have a lot of free time need the money to do these quizzes and these experiments and stuff. And as they went on they realized these people are not at all representative of most people on earth. They’re Western, they’re very educated, they live in an industrialized society, they’re hanging around outside Starbucks all day and they’re rich, they’re democratic, and have been for a long time and they believe that human beings’ choices are sacrosanct to each individual. And those five things are not true of 7 billion of the world's 8 billion people right now. And they’re not anything like what is true of many of the others as they are of the unique people we’re sampling.

So they came up with this acronym to say these people are WEIRD. They don’t represent most people. And what I do in the book is to say that not only don’t they represent most people today but they represent practically nobody who was alive a while back.

The massive majority of people in human history have not thought like we do.

And so the massive majority of people in human history have not thought like we do, and therefore it’s quite a good way of exploring what’s distinctive about the modern West. And then by bringing that in with the ex-Christianity and Romanticism, I'm trying to tell the story about how the modern world became WEIRDER in that sense. So what is it that meant that we became industrialized or Romantic or whatever? That's the way the book then tries to unpack that story. But I found that acronym on its own—just when I first met it six or seven years ago—to be a really compelling summary of what is unusual about modern people.

And obviously, any of us who’ve traveled a bit in the world and met people who don’t share our assumptions or realize this isn’t just that you have a different system of government or you have less money, but it’s actually that your concept of what it is to be human, of what the good life is, of whether individuals take precedence over families or vice versa, everything—food, taboos, the whole caboodle—is different. It is helpful for us to be aware of that and also helpful to understand the story of why it’s true.

Andrew Wilson is the author of Remaking the World: How 1776 Created the Post-Christian West.

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