Discussing motivational insights for Transition with Stephen Rollnick and Chris Johnstone (in 2006) – http://transitionculture.org/2012/01/30/rollnick-johnstone-and-hopkins-discuss-motivational-insights-for-transition/
It’s 100 years since the British explorer Captain Scott reached the South Pole only to realise his rival Roald Amundsen had just beaten him to it. On the return journey he and his party died, but not before writing about it in journals, thus creating an enduring myth of ‘heroic failure’.
In his ‘Message to the Public’, Scott saw his party’s demise as the result of improvident weather:
“We took risks, we knew we took them; things have come out against us, and therefore we have no cause for complaint, but bow to the will of Providence, determined still to do our best to the last”
Amundsen for his part was typically phlegmatic about his own achievement as contrasted with Scott’s:
“I may say that this is the greatest factor—the way in which the expedition is equipped—the way in which every difficulty is foreseen, and precautions taken for meeting or avoiding it. Victory awaits him who has everything in order — luck, people call it. Defeat is certain for him who has neglected to take the necessary precautions in time; this is called bad luck.”— from The South Pole, by Roald Amundsen
So which was it, luck or judgement? Amundsen clearly didn’t believe in luck. For him it was all down to the planning. This anti-Fatalist stance certainly paid off, but of course it was an appraisal made after the event.
The irony to this little tale is that in 1928 while Amundsen was attempting to rescue another explorer whose air ship had gone missing near the North Pole, his own seaplane went missing. The wreckage was found but Amundsen’s body never was. So which was it this time: bad luck or bad judgement?
- More on Fatalism (Fourcultures)
- Centenary of Captain Scott reaching the South Pole – in pictures (guardian.co.uk)
- Starving and dying for a beer, duo finish South Pole return trip (smh.com.au)
Well, why do they? It’s the kind of question only those who don’t do it would bother asking. I admit I’m one of them. The lottery is a mystery to me – self-evidently daft, like a slow-motion version of taking a pile of cash and setting fire to it. Why would anyone do it?
The chief conclusion is as follows:
In two experiments conducted with low-income participants, we examine how implicit comparisons with other income classes increase low-income individuals’ desire to play the lottery. In Experiment 1, participants were more likely to purchase lottery tickets when they were primed to perceive that their own income was low relative to an implicit standard. In Experiment 2, participants purchased more tickets when they considered situations in which rich people or poor people receive advantages, implicitly highlighting the fact that everyone has an equal chance of winning the lottery.
Jim Orford has a book out entitled An Unsafe Bet? The Dangerous Expansion of Gambling and the Debate we should be having. In it he identifies eleven commonly used discourses of gambling. Of these six discourses broadly support the liberalisation of gambling and five support the increase of restrictions on gambling. Orford is fairly relaxed about this typology and even says: ‘Other people would no doubt produce a different list’ (123).
This to Fourcultures is as a red rag to a bull, so here goes.
- How to beat the odds and escape your fate (fourcultures)
“My father told me the oceans were limitless, but that was a false signal.”
NYT on collapsing fish stocks in the South Pacific.
- In Mackerel’s Plunder, Hints of Epic Fish Collapse (nytimes.com)
The Emperor Napoleon was a consummate manipulator of other people’s expectations regarding leadership roles, and here’s how you can be too…
Professor van Vugt’s idea is that evolution has primed humans for particular types of leadership which are not now particularly helpful. There is a kind of mismatch between the leadership relevant to Stone Age peoples and the radically altered demands of today.
He and his collaborators identify two key types of leadership justification:
- The first is the ‘servant’ leadership approach , which claims that leaders benefit the group at a cost to themselves.
- The second is the ‘selfish’ leadership approach, which says the opposite – that leaders benefit themselves at a cost to the group.
Source: Gillet, J., et al. 2010
According to social psychology there are two dominant understandings of the evolution of leadership. The first sees leadership as a kind of by-product of the struggle for social dominance. The struggle for dominance takes place because the winners secure better access to ‘reproductively relevant resources’ (I think this means mates). The dominant individuals by definition ‘occupy the top positions in the hierarchy’ and therefore ‘can exercise power over lower-ranked individuals’.
The second approach sees leadership not as a by-product of dominance battles but as a key aspect of group coordination: Leaders are useful to their followers ‘because they can reap the benefits of being in a highly coordinated and cohesive group.’
If these are the only two versions of leadership allowable, we have a big problem. The ‘selfish’ dominance model fits very well with the Individualism worldview of Cultural theory. In this worldview the purpose of leadership is to advance the individual. While not everyone actually is a leader, everyone theoretically could be. The individualist exhortation is to find the niche within which it is possible to fulfil one’s leadership potential. A hundred business speakers’ careers have thrived on this approach (a recent example of this trope in full swing is to be found in Seth Godin’s Lynchpin and Tribes books – strap line: we need you to lead us).
The ‘servant’ coordination model fits very well with the Egalitarian worldview of Cultural Theory. In this worldview the purpose of leadership begins and ends with the benefit of the group as a whole. Ideal leadership is somewhat communal (for example the group of presbyters who lead a Presbyterian church, replacing the individual bishop with a leadership group. The presbyters hire and fire the minister, not the other way around). Ideal decisionmaking is consensual, in which all make the leadership decisions (for example in a Quaker business meeting).
A working hypothesis based on Cultural Theory would be that these (dominance vs. coordination or selfish vs. servant) are only two of the possible four worldviews or cultural biases available. They are the two which fit along the Group axis. Strong Group is associated with servant leaders, which weak group is associated with selfish leaders. However, in Cultural Theory there is another axis, the Grid axis, which considers the relative significance of regulation, rules, expected social roles. A strong Grid approach to leadership makes leadership strongly deterministic. Weak Grid leadership takes little account of (or actively disparages) organised institutions of leadership. Weak Grid leadership produces two varieties just described – Selfish (Individualist) and Servant (Egalitarian). The two strong Grid leadership patterns are Hierarchical leadership and Fatalist leadership.
We could say that on the Grid axis we are measuring over-determined leadership vs. under-determined leadership.
In over-determined leadership there is a pre-established understanding and expectation of what the leadership roles will look like. In the struggle for dominance would-be leaders are not creating the social hierarchy from scratch, instead they are following well worn upward steps. The over-determined leadership contest asks, for instance ‘who will be the next king?’ The role of monarch already exists, it is well-defined and the would-be leaders vie with one another to fill the pre-existing role. Thus the nature of leadership itself is almost entirely unproblematic. A strong grid organisation will have an ideology that assumes the leadership roles are fixed eternally. This is certainly true of the monarchy, where it is mythologised that successive rulers all descend from one another (yet a brief overview of any monarchy will quickly show this to be a fabrication). But it is also true of a modern bureaucracy in which the name plate on the office door or car parking space shows the job title eternally unchanged but the individual title holder ephemeral (again, an examination of actual workplaces shows this to be a fiction – in many workplaces the individuals outlast the management reorganisations that create and destroy their job titles and whole departments regularly and almost ceaselessly).
The under-determined leadership contest, in contrast, actively worries about the nature of leadership itself. Roles, expectations, precedents are all much more fluid and subject to reinterpretation. Instead of slotting into a given role, weak Grid leaders bring with them their own leadership style. A clear example is Napoleon Bonaparte, who went from being a Corsican nationalist lieutenant Colonel to being a French republican captain then General then First Consul in a Republic (he wrote his own constitution) to Emperor in a self-created empire (he crowned himself and subsequently made kings of his brothers, brother-in-law and son). His political formation was in weak Grid Corsica: “As the nation [Corsica] was perishing I was born” (McLynn 1998: 37).
Napoleon was a consummate manipulator of other people’s expectations regarding leadership roles. On his return to France having escaped from the Isle of Elba (see photo at top) he faced unarmed and alone the French 5th Regiment that had orders to re-arrest him. “Here I am.” he told them, “Kill your Emperor if you wish.” Instead they shouted “Vive l’Empereur!” and marched with him to Paris to depose Louis XVIII (McLynn 1998: 605).
Mismatch hypothesis: ‘our modern environments look very different from our ancestral environments’ Example: why do we tend to vote for taller political candidates when height has nothing to do with their job as politicians.
The assumption being made here is that we are genetically predisposed to be impressed by tall people because our Stone Age ancestors were. But this is a cognitive trap, since it no longer matters how tall the leader is.
A counter-suggeston is that only certain cultural biases are interested in the height of the leader. Individualist leadership is definitely interested, but only to the extent that height can be used as a proxy for individual prowess. Hierarchical leadership is impressed largely because height (like gender, race, age etc) is one more easy item to rank. Egalitarian leadership is quite unimpressed by height (in Australia, this tendency is known as the ‘tall poppy syndrome’ and any potential leader who stands out above the crowd will be ruthlessly cut down to size). Fatalist leadership knows full well that one’s height is the luck of the draw.
Interestingly, despite his many and various leadership achievements, tall is one thing Napoleon wasn’t.
My suggestion: it’s the environment that creates the leadership much as the terrain creates the apparent complexity of the ant’s path across the beach (Simon 1969: 24-25; cf. Agre 1997: 56)
Avolio, B., Walumbwa, F. O., Weber, T. J. (2009). Leadership: Current theories, research and future directions. Annual Review of Psychology, 60, 421-449.
Gillet, J., et al. Selﬁsh or servant leadership? Evolutionary predictions on leadership personalities in coordination games. Personality and Individual Differences (2010), doi:10.1016/j.paid.2010.06.003
Frank McLynn 1998 Napoleon . London: Pimlico.
Mark van Vugt and Anjana Ahuja 2010 Selected: Why some people lead, why others follow, and why it matters. London: Profile.
Image Credit: CC, adapted from Gabriele Delhey/Wikimedia
How are differences of opinion to be characterised?
That is to say, if there is more than one opinion, what is its status in relation to the others? Are there different types of difference of opinion? It’s hard to write about this matter because as soon as we do so we resort to language that is essentially metaphorical. These metaphors condition our thought and tend to beg the questions. So, for instance, to use the term conflicting opinions or competing opinions or incommensurable opinions is to assume that conflict, competition or incommensurability is a given. Of course, ‘opinion’ itself is a matter of opinion. One person’s opinion is another person’s fact. Even the term difference is somewhat metaphorical. What if it turns out our opinions don’t actually differ, after all? Perhaps by means of Hegelian synthesis or some such trick, they can be reconciled to one another.
Michael Ruse, author of Science and Spirituality: Making Room for Faith in the Age of Science, has written about the ways in which we can characterise the debate between science and religion. He identifies four approaches, namely:
The contribution of this post is to suggest that these are not merely choices freely made but are pathways already prescribed by social circumstances. We can’t just wake up in the morning and decide that today the relationship between science and religion will be conflictual, and that tomorrow it will be dialogical. The social environment in which the relationship exists conditions to a large extent the way it is characterised. Our pre-existing assumptions and ways of organising make particular lines of reasoning seem ‘natural’ rather than ‘forced’. This point matters because of our tendency to see things as being ‘just the way they are’, without further reflection. If science and religion appear to be in conflict, we tend to jump straight to ontology (‘they just are in conflict – that’s how it really is’), without reflecting on our epistemology (‘how do we know how it really is?’). It is hard to see how the likes of Richard Dawkins and PZ Myers could stop being combative, or how the likes of the Catholic Church could stop trying to be all-encompassing. Notice that method and conclusion amount to the same thing.
The relationship between the four approaches identified by Prof Ruse can be clarified by means of Grid-Group Cultural Theory, under which rubric much thought has already gone into the cultural biases, or worldviews which shape our disagreements. Viewed in this context the religion/science debate tells us as much about the institutional framework of the debate as it does about the truth of the matter.
Approach Metaphor Typical institution Cultural Bias
Warfare Competition the market Individualist
Independence Isolation courtroom/prison Fatalist
Dialogue Consensus deliberative democracy Egalitarian
Integration Nested Truth bureaucracy Hierarchical
The dialogue approach is in the spirit of deliberative democracy, or of Jurgen Habermas’s communicative action.
The Integration approach is in keeping with Donald Davidson’s ideas expressed in his seminal article ‘On the very idea of a conceptual scheme’. Differences of opinion are subordinated to a hierarchical concept of Truth.
The independence approach is in keeping with Thomas Kuhn’s concept of separate paradigms, or the idea of separate (perhaps overlapping) magisteria.
Finally the warfare approach is closest to an understanding of knowledge as competition, with the survival of the fittest and ‘the marketplace of ideas’.
My suggestion is that these types of disagreement don’t just apply to the science and religion debate, but to all disagreements. Michael Ruse has successfully described the totality of parsimonious ways in which a disagreement may be characterised in any field. These relate closely to the ideal type worldviews or cultural biases of Cultural Theory. An interim conclusion is that while you can have any facts you like, your choice of difference of opinion is strictly limited (Prof Marco Verweij’s ‘constrained relativism‘ perhaps).
“The Wellcome exhibition starts with a quote from Mary Douglas, the great social anthropologist who wrote Purity and Danger. Dirt she defined as “matter out of place”. She remains a key thinker, prefiguring many of the bigger, better known French structuralists. In analysing taboos about the pure and the impure, the sacred and the profane, Douglas makes us see that context is everything. Dirt, then, is in the “eye of the beholder”.” [The Guardian]
Admirers of the anthropologist Mary Douglas would have appreciated the exhibition on dirt, which took place in 2011 at London’s Wellcome Gallery.
If dirt is a matter of cultural bias, the question of who cleans up becomes an important indication of social organisation.
Egalitarianism: Everyone cleans up; strong group motivation based on moral imperatives. Recent example: Egyptian revolution – the protesters cleaned up after themselves. Cleaning denotes status. Anyone seen to be not cleaning is morally inferior to the group.
Fatalism: No one cleans up. Why bother, it will just get messy again (and keeping it messy is an important, unstated method of social protest). ‘Mattter out of place’ isn’t ‘dirt’ – it’s a succinct description of the whole of life. Ability to cause dirt to someone else’s property denotes status. Example: graffiti.
Individualism: I’ll clean up! (There’s brass to be made from muck). Example: the entire recycling industry. The rag and bone man of my childhood.
Hierarchy: cleaning denotes status. The cleaners are socially lower than the cleaned. This is made to appear self-evident,obviously true, inevitable.
Mary Douglas saw dirt as ‘matter out of place’ not because dirt simply is matter out of place, in some essential or definitional sense, but because she tended to align herself with an Hierarchical view of the world. In hierarchical institutions ‘a place for everything and everything in its place’ is a key maxim. The parade ground, for instance, is proof that neatness, order and regimentation is everything. The strong assumption of the Hierarchy is that the army that walks together the most neatly is obviously the most intimidating and the most likely to win a battle. Extremely clean, neat, ironed and polished uniforms will definitely go a long way to providing certainty about a nation’s capacity to repel invaders.
Individualism will see dirt as matter under-priced. Treasure from trash is a leading business model.
Fatalism will see dirt as inevitable – and take a quiet, stoic pride in it.
Egalitarianism will see some kinds of dirt as proof that ‘we’re all in this together’. But large scale trans-national dirt like radiation or carbon dioxide is seen as a threat against which we need to all pull together as one.
See also: The Toxicity Panic
Image credit: Brett Jordan/Flickr
Dan Kahan‘s blog at the Cultural Cognition Project makes some conjectures about whether experts think in similar ways to non-experts. Specifically he wonders whether experts exhibit the kinds of cultural biases already demonstrated by non-experts. Do experts use cultural cognition?
My observation is that there would need to be care taken to avoid something like the fundamental attribution error. That is to say, being an ‘expert’ in a given field is strongly conditioned by situation. So the very choice of who the experts are may be conditioned by unacknowledged cultural bias. My conjecture is that experts therefore say what their audiences and sponsors expect them to, otherwise they would be unrecognizable as experts. In situations where the message is critiqued, so is the messenger’s status as an expert. In situations where the message is positively received, the messenger’s status as expert is regarded as obvious.
Three possible examples:
Who is an expert in local economic development? Rob Hopkins, the founder of the Transition Towns movement, tends to have a strongly Egalitarian outlook on the world. He recently complained that the ‘growth as usual’ mindset of local council officers called into question their competence as expert in their own field. His position is that true economic development experts would take into account peak oil, economic crises and climate change and allow for the possibility that economic growth, as it has been understood, may be a thing of the past.
Second example: Climate science has its experts and it is an open question as to whether the geologist Ian Plimer is one of them. At one level he is not an expert in climate science since that is not his area of professional competence. However, he has written a book on the subject and since he is a ‘climate sceptic’, there are some people who wish to present him as an expert in climate change. His new book for students was launched by a former prime minister of Australia.
The third example is that of US judges, experts in legal deliberation, many of whom are appointed on specifically political grounds. Voters have a sense of the liberal and conservative candidates for office and they vote accordingly. To those of us living in places where the judiciary is appointed on merit rather than elected, this appears strange indeed. After all, what could be less political than judgements concerning the facts?
In these examples the kinds of statements made by ‘experts’ are received not on the basis of whether the person in question actually has qualifications or professional standing, but on whether their words fit with a particular cultural bias. That is to say, each cultural bias already has its own experts, who are brought into the argument in order to cast doubt on the competence of the other side’s supposed expertise.
So before we can identify how experts behave it’s necessary to create a definition of expert that is broadly acceptable across the conflicting cultural solidarities described by Cultural Theory. The three examples given above show that this may be quite difficult.
Further reflections on the concept of horizontal and vertical teaching methods.
A recent edition of the journal Social Analysis (55.2, 2011) is entirely devoted to the contrast between hierarchical and egalitarian pressures on Danish Society.
The introduction begins with a discussion of the work of the anthropologist Marianne Gullestad (1946–2008). Gullestad developed a theory of Scandinavian social life based on the two dichotomies of hierarchy-equality and individualism-holism , which she derived from Louis Dumont (Dumont, Homo æqualis Paris: Gallimard, 1977). It continues:
“Our ethnographies suggest that simple dichotomies between egalitarianism and hierarchy or between individualism and holism do not hold.” (p.13)
One of the articles, by Karen Fog Olwig, focuses specifically on education in Danish kindergartens: ‘Children’s sociality: the ‘Civilizing’ Project in the Danish Kindergarten’.
These kinds of analysis would benefit from a consideration of the Cultural Theory typology in which besides hierarchical (vertical) and egalitarian (horizontal) approaches to education there are also Individualist and Fatalist institutional arrangements.
More generally, it’s possible to be suspicious of comparative national analyses which reify types of behaviour and then seek to apply them to national population groups, as though distinctive national characteristics were so easily demonstrated in this manner.
My concern here is that analyses which identify national characteristics do less to clarify those characteristics than they do to reinforce a kind of nationalist essentialism. This reassuring thought – that we’re doing the right thing when we organise along national lines – seems to me to have had its high point in the mid to late Nineteenth Century with the development of modern nation states, and then another peak after the Second World War with the rise of post-colonial independence movements. It is getting another airing in our time as part of a collective anxiety about globalisation. Most recently, the decline of European currency forces a rethink of national economic arrangements. The national is being renegotiated and redefined.
I’m arguing here that the process of identifying national characteristics is at least partly born from a certain cultural anxiety regarding national identities in an era of globalisation. So to argue that some nations have particularly ‘vertical’ teaching methods and that this impacts on governmental effectiveness, as do the authors of the study previously mentioned, reveals something about the context and preoccupations of the research itself. There is a market for clients (broadly construed) who are interested in reinforcing their ideas about the social reality, the solidity, of nation states.
Analyses inspired by the Cultural Theory approach of anthroplogist Mary Douglas instead start from the assumption that cultural differences are to be found as much within social groups as between them. That is to say, the cultural biases inherent in institutions operate at all scales, from the household (Gullestad’s ‘kitchen table society‘) to the global. This is not to deny the possibility of empirically observable national characteristics, but to contextualise them in a series of nested (Hierarchical), or competing (Individualist), or incompatible (Fatalist), or wholistic (Egalitarian) scales. An interest in identifying the dominant scale (natonal, supranational, something else?) reveals a Hierarchical cultural bias.
Where can Cultural Theory aid these kinds of investigation?
First, as mentioned, it identifies, parsimoniously, a further two ‘ideal types’, beyond ‘horizontal’ egalitarianism and ‘vertical’ hierarchy.
Second, it allows for a questioning of national characteristics as particularly national.
Third, following on from this, it renders visible contesting social forces within societies and institutions. So for example, where Hierarchical approaches to social organisation appear dominant, Cultural Theory can show how they may not be quite as dominant as seen at first sight (because they fit within a dynamic of contested worldviews), and it can show where the possibilities of change lie in already existing institutions and relationships.
To end on the idea of anxiety about national identity in an era of globaliisation, two books are particularly helpful on this:
David Held and Henrietta L. Moore, eds (2008) Cultural Politics in a Global Age: Uncertainty, Solidarity and Innovation. Oxford: Oneworld.
Henrietta L. Moore (2011) Still Life: Hopes, Desires and Satisfactions. Cambridge: Polity.
Bruun, Maja Hojer; Jakobsen, Gry Skrædderdal; Krøijer, Stine (2011) Introduction: The Concern for Sociality—Practising Equality and Hierarchy in Denmark, Social Analysis, Volume 55, Number 2, Summer, pp. 1-19. [http://dx.doi.org/10.3167/sa.2011.550201]
Louis Dumont (1977) Homo æqualis Paris: Gallimard.
- Horizontal vs. Vertical: An International Comparison of Teaching Methods (fourcultures.com)
- Moving beyond a failure in the marketplace of ideas (fourcultures.com)