Effects of Being WEIRD

Ara Norenzayan, professor of psychology at the University of British Columbia, proposes in his works on theodiversity (and I assume others) a W.E.I.R.D. challenge, which I will not get into here, but you can read for yourself. WEIRD refers to bodies of work and thought in academic circles overly reliant on populations that are: Western. Educated. Industrialized. Rich. Democratic. (W, in my opinion, can also include White Male.) This acronym reveals the issue with the sources most used by Americans to approach topics and form opinions regarding terrorism, fundamentalism and healthcare.

Head of Janus
Head of Janus · Wikipedia


What is the distinction between the material and the spiritual? This is at the root of understanding our debates on not only psychology and religion but also politics and economics. It is a western-grounded, Janus-like construal of human duality between what is within and what is outside. Some points of reference:

A) Buddhist scholar and meditation guide Henepola Gunaratana writes in Mindfulness in Plain English that “overdevelopment of the material aspect of existence occurs at the expense of the deeper, emotional and spiritual aspects of existence that we are currently paying the price for” (7).

B) In response to a similar trend in his native 17th C. Denmark, Søren Kierkegaard’s (SK) works critique government and church, hoping to convert hearts to the true faith of Jesus Christ.

C) In his All that is Solid Melts into Air Marshall Berman discusses Goethe’s Faust as a narrative of development set against the traditional social backdrop of 19th C. Germany. Berman highlights the tensions between false binaries between materialistic, earthly-minded Jewish custom and God versus the inward-looking introspective (think SK!) and spiritual Christian German culture and God.

Walter Benjamin · Wikipedia


Peter Berger in his BBC television series “Ways of Seeing” (1972) expounds upon Benjamin’s arguments in “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction.” Benjamin famously argues that the technological manufacturing of artistic representations — frescoes, oil on canvas, advertisement or film — introduces a state of inauthenticity into the marketplace. Buying-up merchandise associated with an original piece of art is a form of participation in a phenomenon of objectification and commodification that is unusually complex. According to Walter Benjamin, the value of commodities are rooted in material and ideological consumer markets. Humans confer values on commodities that shift over time because of modernity’s insatiability, changing reflections of art and morality, and an ever increasing desire for permanence, for authenticity.

What is the relationship between the material and the spiritual, if such entities exist? (Striking read here is the correspondence between Walter Benjamin and Gershon Scholem.) What is the matter of psychology and religion; what is the spirit of politics and economics? Without such things what would humans think, read, learn, explore and DO? What could we possibly imagine? More importantly, Can we say anything at all of these matters if we cannot begin to comprehend what we as of yet do not know?


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