Moon of Alabama Brecht quote
March 02, 2013

Culture And The Choice Of A Government Systems

The Wilsonians and their neoconservative brethren presume that all humans want "freedom", "democracy" and "choice". It is their mission, they say, to "spread" those over the world. Their conviction is related to the "all men are created equal" myth that was, by hypocritical slave owners, enshrined in the declaration of independence.

The modern equality view was formed at the time of the first nukes, the first computers and game theory when, as Adam Curtis explains in The Trap, all science strove to be like physics with a sound theoretical base and deterministic laws that could be identified and then used to make predictions and to create policies.

In economics the "all man are equal" view was the believe in a homo economicus as the rational actor in all things economics and thereby in a world full of similar rational, self-interested, labor-averse individuals. But man are not rational actors and economic preferences are driven by many other factors than just greed and labor avoidance. This base onto which much of the economic science was build on was shattered by studies in behavioral economics and the finding that man make weird choices and are not even able to rationally evaluate the risk of their choices.

But while behavioral economics may describe human economic decision making better than the rational actor theories it still sees man as somewhat universal in their behavior. But this, like the homo economicus, is a wrong assumption.

Man may be equal with regards to a few universal rights but they are not equal in their social and cultural upbringing. That has, as new anthropological research finds, much more influence on them as is usually assumed:

Economists and psychologists, for their part, did an end run around the issue with the convenient assumption that their job was to study the human mind stripped of culture. The human brain is genetically comparable around the globe, it was agreed, so human hardwiring for much behavior, perception, and cognition should be similarly universal. No need, in that case, to look beyond the convenient population of undergraduates for test subjects. A 2008 survey of the top six psychology journals dramatically shows how common that assumption was: more than 96 percent of the subjects tested in psychological studies from 2003 to 2007 were Westerners—with nearly 70 percent from the United States alone. Put another way: 96 percent of human subjects in these studies came from countries that represent only 12 percent of the world’s population.
Psychological experiments, when repeated in various societies and cultures, find large sociological differences in behavior, perception and cognition. Those are not hardwired but are part and product of the specific culture we experience in our upbringing and in which we are living:
The growing body of cross-cultural research that the three researchers were compiling suggested that the mind’s capacity to mold itself to cultural and environmental settings was far greater than had been assumed. The most interesting thing about cultures may not be in the observable things they do—the rituals, eating preferences, codes of behavior, and the like—but in the way they mold our most fundamental conscious and unconscious thinking and perception.
The assumption of rationality of man in economic studies has proven to be wrong. But to replace that with behavioral economics is only a small step. The psychology research underlying behavioral economics and other theories assumes, physics like, a hardwired human brain that does not exists. The results of psychological experiments done in the U.S. are not universal results but specific to the U.S. culture. They already differ quite a lot within that culture.

One can thereby not derive policies and preferences for other societies from one's own. Understanding of what is a good or bad decision, what is a god or bad form of government, of dignity and values, widely differs between cultures and societies. Individualism may be valued in the "west" but other societies find it abhorrent.

This explains why not all people want to be, as Wilsonians and neoconservatives assume, like "us", but may make very different choices with regard to their lives and their societies. "Democracy", "freedom" and "choice" may be alien concepts to them that do not fit what they perceive as their social values. If we consider that people have a right to chose their system of government we also have to allow authoritarianism or religion based systems as a possible culture based outcome. Democracy crusaders, who want to remake other societies in the image of their own, can not admit that because they still hold to their physics like understanding of societies and minds.

Posted by b on March 2, 2013 at 16:33 UTC | Permalink


There are no democracy crusaders. They are simply propaganda tools of empire.

Posted by: Amar | Mar 2 2013 18:05 utc | 1

While I agree with general idea proposed by one of the links (the one from "your middle east"), I have some problems with it.

So I agree that in many countries, the collective will of people may result in very illiberal -sometimes in fact even in downright undemocratic- outcomes. I also think that it is quite possible that if the "secularism" were to be put to vote, that it would probably be rejected in all Islamic world (I would include Turkey in that too).

Nevertheless I don't see how the author can minimize the significance of the fact that ~70% of the Egyptian society has boycotted the referendum on the constitution? He keeps attributing the lack of enthusiasm of the people in participating in elections to anti-democratic behaviour of SCAF; but to me it seems that that should be all the more reason for people to go out and support MB and the Salafists with their votes (as the author seems to suggest that those two are representatives of the vast majority of Egyptians).

No matter what I do, no matter which angle I choose to look at the events, I cannot bring myself to see a constitution voted for by only ~19% of a population as the legitimate constitution of a country. And the fact that the so-called "liberal" opposition may have a far lower popularity than the Islamists, does not change the aforementioned fact.

Posted by: Pirouz_2 | Mar 2 2013 18:32 utc | 2

If there are democracy crusaders they have nothing in common with the "Wilsonians" or the neo-cons who, as Amar suggests, are tools of the empire which, most decidedly, opposes democracy in every form but that of parody.

I am not looking forward to the remainder of this discussion. The subject does not lend itself to this sort of format.

Posted by: bevin | Mar 2 2013 18:33 utc | 3

I see all three, democracy crusaders, Wilsonians and neocons, as tools of empire. They are just different forms of propaganda for "exeptionalism" and the plain greed behind it.

But the concepts they work with, often successfully, are the ones I tried to pick on. The equality of humans which I do see in a legal sense but which is certainly not existing in the cultural sphere. There everyone is special and specific.

I find it important that science finally gets to the point that it proves the (rather obvious) above. That different cultures and societies form people to different values and different believes. If that gets some traction the "man are equal" and "our democracy for all" propaganda from the empire folks will look more hollow.

They may then have to argue that we have to change those foreign cultures. Good luck with that. History has proven that such is (nearly) impossible.

Posted by: b | Mar 2 2013 19:31 utc | 4

So far,I've seen little democracy in any of our projects of the last 60 odd years,as democracy empowers people that don't like or want US there,and our population or any population infected by propaganda of concerted and earnest BS is going to be constipated in expressing its collective will in correcting our stupid actions.
And with our Kabuki electoral process of tweedle dee and dum,as in Obomba being reelected with his track record of only one trophy,the empty plaque of OBL,and we on the economic rocks,Romneys appeal to the war mongers and Zionists and money men fell very flat as he committed political hari kari, very very strange,eh?
Just saw in Haaretz,Hitler alleged to be Berber,Askenazi Jewish and then German? genetically.They tested his living relatives.
And any more word about the Cheney company and Israel deal to sell Syrian fossil fuels in the Golan Heights?Kick 'em when their down, eh?
Pirouz2;your stats are questionable.The brotherhood won with a decent majority.Such is democracy,as the USA kept out of that spring and didn't poison it, as it was too visible to the world.

Posted by: dahoit | Mar 2 2013 19:53 utc | 5

The neocons themselves are not really universalistic; they are Zionist supremacists (as a group) which itself sees an ethnic elite leading the lessers on the path of "progress." The as a group might have rejected the more anthromorphic "Messiah return" as an eschatological culmination, after which they will still be the "elite"... yet substantial features of the doctrine still exist within the more secular "we are our own Messiah" complex.

Posted by: amspirnational | Mar 2 2013 21:39 utc | 6

I believe that people are created equal in the sense that they should all be equal before the law and in the exercise of their rights.

And as much as I support individual initiative and self-reliance, we cannot expect individuals and familites with limited incomes and resouces to compete and negotiate on equal terms with multi-million (or even multi-billion) dollar international corporations for terms of employment, financial services or health care.

That is the role of a democratically elected government: to ensure that financial advantage does not confer any undue legal advantage.

Posted by: ralphieboy | Mar 2 2013 22:13 utc | 7

B, I've been reading your posts for years. I love this blog and really enjoy the way your mind works. But I truly believe that this is the most brilliant post you've written - among a plethora of insightful posts, this stands out among the rest. Thanks and Bravo!

Posted by: skuppers66 | Mar 2 2013 23:10 utc | 8

I have no problem with the idea that all people are equal. Some are better at some things, some at others. It probably balances out all told. In modern society, it's likely that many people never find out what they are good at because many things people are interested in are not applicable in a hierarchical, capitalist society, where some fields are useful, but many are not, and are discouraged or ignored. So many people adapt to lives that fit in with such a system, but they leave much of their potential behind then. I suspect don't make a living at what they would really like to do, but work at something they happened to fall in with, because they needed to make money at the time, and then stuck with it over the years out of the comfort of security and inertia. Not sure if this has much to do with what "b" was thinking about equality, though.

Posted by: вот так | Mar 2 2013 23:40 utc | 9

"I suspect don't make a living"

I suspect the majority of people don't make a living

Posted by: вот так | Mar 2 2013 23:42 utc | 10

I think Amar is correct in that it's all a shadow play by the US elite, and always has been,

If we consider that people have a right to chose their system of government we also have to allow authoritarianism ...

... as in the USA itself. If Americans were interested in democracy they'd institute democracy in America.

The larger point is that science is reductionist. Scientific models are always less than the whole, are always created and applied from outside the arena in question. That's ok for physics. No physics without it. It is not a proper basis for policy/decision-making in human society. Decision making from outside ... by the 1% in the US, Europe, and the world around ... is by definition undemocratic. Those who give themselves over to the 'scientific', corporate mindset 'externalize' the human race, the planet earth, life and reality itself and faithfully march off like automatons to their ... and everyone else' ... destruction in exchange for a fantastic sense of security in a much reduced utopia. I agree that b has struck a deeply resonant chord.

Posted by: john francis lee | Mar 3 2013 0:05 utc | 11

I think all people should be entitled to reach for whatever their goals are [education should never be a financial burden], but it's up to them how to get there [or not]. One day, a little boy fall flat on his face in front of me and cried his eyes out. I got him back on his feet and ran my left hand through his hair in an attempt to make him feel a bit at ease or distract from the pain. Unfortunately [for me], I did this in Thailand. One of the most difficult things [because it's so easy to overlook] when living/working in a foreign country is all the customs that are different. Most tourists can get away with being 'just tourist,' because they stay for a bit and move on. But when you stay for longer periods of time [Yes, Ken, I did], you begin to notice/detect [in many cases] all sorts of differences in many, many ways. That's why decades ago [Yes, Ken, I'm that 'young'], I figured to let people be and learn from [or study] them. Every society has its good and bad stuff, and when in Rome, one has to act like a Roman [more or less], but not necessarily become one. Every good concept I come across, I take with me and make it mine [doesn't make a 'good' guy]. One of the reasons why I'm so vehemently against war, is because of al the wonderful people I've met over the years. You know, the ordinary ones, that share their food and drinks with you, the ones that provide shelter and invite you to their homes. There simply isn't a 'one size fits all' strategy out there to serve mankind.

Posted by: Daniel Rich | Mar 3 2013 1:01 utc | 12

I couldn't agree more, b

two fascinating books on the subject:

1) on the highly unnatural character of modern market-based economies: "The Great Transformation" by Karl Polanyi

2) for an example of a radically different culture (in Spanish): Cultura Andina Agrocéntrica; it contains an extremely well articulated critique of western civilization,

as for the "democratic crusaders", well from the Crusades onward (well before the birth of the Usa), western society has recurrently been obsessed with the search for the "real" values to impose on others through a "holy war"; another reason to be skeptical of our "rationality"

Posted by: claudio | Mar 3 2013 1:01 utc | 13

Democracy is one of the most perfidious inventions ever.

Actually it can be considered an optimization of the old Roman "panem et circenses" (Let them have to eat and fun and they (the plebs) will be content and not care about power politics), only that with democracy the plebs gets less, much less. All the plebs gets is a feeling, the feeling to be heard, to be a part of it, to co-decide.

There is another quite similar "evolution": packaging. It's not anymore the content that matters but increasingly the packaging, the "experience", the "feeling".

While formertimes there was an "us" (the people) and "they" (the powerful) in a democracy "they" *are* - supposedly - "us"; opposing them would mean opposing ourselves.

But it get's worse. Insidiously democracy even utilarizes mans last retreat, hope; the less power one has the more important the (betraying) idea "my vote counts!", "I can change things!" becomes.

But there are "hard factors", too. History shows for instance a rather direct connection between power and manageable distance. In old times kingdoms were rather small for a reason; the very definition of kingdom implies the capability to rule it which again implies the capability to reach, both in words and persons, the whole kingdom.
While there were attempts (sometimes even working for some time) to create larger political entities, those larger states actually became feasible only when technology provided the means to bridge the increased distances.

The same holds true on the psychological level quite similarly. To rule, do decide - or co-decide - one must grasp the whole. While this is feasible for almost everyone on a local level ("Shall we build a new school or not?") it quickly becomes non-feasible when the context (the "kingdom") becomes larger ("What effects and side effects will this or that change in fiscal policy have for the country?").
This is, btw. a major reason the us could develop a significant strength; They (originally) had strong states (i.e. smaller "kingdoms") rather than the mega-moloch "usa".

In summary it can be said that nowadays democracy is widely a vanity dream driven and controlled by PR (-> media) and rites (as believe amplifiers).

And it is by no means coincidential that larger and larger units (eu, north america, aso) are created. Larger units ("kingdoms") quite simply weaken the little influence citizens have while increasing the influence of the real "kings".

Posted by: Mr. Pragma | Mar 3 2013 1:19 utc | 14

Different kind of post here, B.

I dun'o, spent a lot of years reading vast amounts from psychology, sociology and more. Interesting stuff much of it, but... did't really ever teach me much I could use, when it's all said and done. It's like trying to explain "yesterdays", with no roadmap for tomorrows. A trap, as I see it.

I like to use the analogy: I've seen tons of these guys who can explain in explicit detail, how the dog got Pavloged, why the dog remains so, and all the conditions within being Pavloved. Show me the guys who can un-Pavlov the dog.

""Democracy", "freedom" and "choice" may be alien concepts to them that do not fit what they perceive as their social values."

More simply, maybe they are just *choosing* what the observers are too culture bound, to see in these other cultures. Could it be, that... these "choice" advocates have no idea what, in human experience, choice actually is?

Posted by: jdmckay | Mar 3 2013 1:43 utc | 15

Very thought-provoking and worthwhile post, b.
From my (limited) exposure to non-Western cultures I have to agree that there are some quite important differences.

The culture of almost universal, pre-emptive, self-effacing respect in Thailand left an indelible impression on me. It was very refreshing to meet people to whom "respect" was a habit and a two-way street, rather than something one reads about in books or uses as a throw-away line when in dispute with one's offspring.

Posted by: Hoarsewhisperer | Mar 3 2013 2:51 utc | 16

This might be of interest: Why Western democracy is the worst of regimes

Posted by: Daniel Rich | Mar 3 2013 2:57 utc | 18

Friedman, Hayek and all the other Free Market Fairy clowns are terribly wrong:

Posted by: Steve J. | Mar 3 2013 3:22 utc | 19

b. you are mixing up what people say and what they do.

You say

"The Wilsonians and their neoconservative brethren presume that all humans want "freedom", "democracy" and "choice". It is their mission, they say, to "spread" those over the world. Their conviction is related to the "all men are created equal" myth that was, by hypocritical slave owners, enshrined in the declaration of independence."

This is not Western foreign policy. The US/UK/France have always supported political Islam as preferable to nationalism or communism. They did not create a state where all men are created equal in Iraq, they created a sectarian state where people are defined by religion if they got one or not, and Christians had to leave as their lifestyle was different. And it was not Iraqui's choice who presumably would have prefered a secular state with religious freedom.

There is a dissonance in the US (and other countries) in what politicians say and people vote for, and what their foreign policy actually is.

Borders in the Middle East and Africa were drawn by competing colonial powers under the aspect of control and proxies. These states are not based on

societies and cultures and by their sociological differences in behavior, perception and cognition.

If you base the borders of a Middle Eastern nation state with all created equal on the historical regional empires and majority culture (Arabic and Islam) you get a huge, rich, powerful nation with a very young population.

Posted by: somebody | Mar 3 2013 4:12 utc | 20

As you have pointed out killing people allegedly so those left alive can have "democracy".."choice"..."freedom" just does not shake out.

Posted by: Kathleen | Mar 3 2013 6:32 utc | 21

I think that they way you've framed this argument (and actually the argument itself) leads really easily to essentialism. We've seen countries go from democracy to authoritarianism and that's not due to culture but due to external machinations and their links to domestic elites - I'm thinking specifically the CIA-sponsored coups in the Middle East and Latin America etc. We've seen within some countries the changes from a more secular political culture to a more sectarian one (once again the Middle East is a good example of that) but there are also non-cultural explanations for that. Culture itself can change, be moulded, responds to events and power relations.

Posted by: Inanna | Mar 3 2013 8:20 utc | 22

"We will never rest. Ever." -- AFRICOM.

Posted by: Daniel Rich | Mar 3 2013 8:31 utc | 23

b, I agree with skuppers66 @ 8 that this is a brilliant new voice of yours! and that your blogs are fascinating and lovable!

Thank you!

Posted by: lanbent1 | Mar 3 2013 12:47 utc | 24

Cross-cultural research has thrown up huge differences since the 1920s to refer only to recent times.

Many researchers have beaten that drum (not in the ‘oh the blacks are staggeringly different way’ to make it short) and been ignored. Others have shown universal learning mechanisms for ex. but also been ignored. Both similarities and differences are thrown into the dominant paradigm.

The article “We aren’t the world” makes good points, but this isn’t flash news, and even skirts around major differences as it concentrates on the application of ‘modern’ research models to ‘others’ (such as awarding sums to partners or opponents in game play situations, invented in the US and W) and thus constitutes in itself a bias. The situations proposed never arise in daily life and the ‘distillation of principles’ inherent in them, abstracted in them, are certainly not perceived in the same way. So it is pretty much kicking in open doors.

What the article - and others like it - leaves out is the domination practised by US (+ poodle W) psychological and sociological science, imposing schemas, tasks, categorization (of ppl, of research methods, of reporting, of responses), in itself cultural domination that is immensely effective. The US basically controls Psych. Science today, thru Gvmt. funding and a strangle hold on journals, rankings, etc. (The DSM is a case in point.)

Alternative views about what human beings actually essentially are, are suppressed, swept away.

Personally, I think that the control (which stretches to psychiatry, medecine as a whole, pharma) - call it soft power if you want - is more important than that of Hollywood, with its glam and individual violence, etc.

Though it is tempting to reduce all such discourse to a Nature/Nurture debate, that is a red herring, irrelevant.

How this all stretches to Gov. is another leap.

All very interesting though.

Posted by: Noirette | Mar 3 2013 14:01 utc | 25


Thanks for this! Interesting post and something that more people need to think deeply about. Kind of along the lines of my rights end where another person's nose begins, including my 'right' to force them to believe the way I believe.

Hollywood and western media have done the ground work in many foreign lands to sell the locals an illusion about what western democracy is. They did it in the u.s. too. Media is a very, very powerful drug and once hooked folks forget they're watching fantasies and start to believe in a two-demensional world where all problems are solved in under two hours for a movie and less than 20 minutes for your typical sit com. Problems seem so easy to solve in magic media land it causes people to give-up too easily when faced with their own challenges.

I wonder how many terrorist/freedom fighters were created watching Hollywood's crap? Think about that for a minute...

To see how media transforms our beliefs about something just watch the Rambo series of movies. Rambo starts off as an anti war/anti government vietnam vet who just wants to be left alone, but after movie one suddenly the military needs his skills to save some of his bros that were left behind in vietnam (by previous politicians, the ones that send him back couldn't be like those scum, right?) And by movie three we're swept-up in the idea that the new america needs righteous soldiers to defend freedom and to help undo the mistakes political hacks make. It's the politicians who wear blackface in those movies. The military is the hero. Rambo probably had a lot to do with my teenage self wanting to join the military... well him and John Wayne's movies.

Beliefs are strange critters. Just look at physics (which you mention) and how many different ways this science looks at the world. There are physics laws for small objects, physical laws for larger objects and then there is the entire universe, all explained so easily and eloquently by people like Steven Hawking (great lecturer I've seen him at the Aspen Center for Physics, WOW!)
Pretty amazing what scientist think they know... and I bought all of it hook, line and sinker for many years. Then I discovered the electric universe and I've found my beliefs needed updating.

I guess it comes down to: the more I know the less I know. If everyone would question their beliefs a little deeper maybe the world wouldn't be such a screwy place. Or maybe it would still be screwy, but not as screwy :)


Posted by: DaveS | Mar 3 2013 14:37 utc | 26

Interesting discussion all, but, with few exceptions, the history of the world is replete with the greedy and avarice riddled folks choosing talk of "democracy" and "freedom" to further their ends. How to control these people, should be the debate.

The modern corporate form is now in it's ascendancy around the globe, and using it's capture of Governments and mass media to achieve their goal of resource hegemony.

Here in the U.S., the battle is over I fear. Regardless of culture, the fight against the forces of greed and avarice, needs to be joined around the globe.

Best wishes all.

Posted by: ben | Mar 3 2013 15:10 utc | 27

b@ "That different cultures and societies form people to different values and different believes. If that gets some traction the "man are equal" and "our democracy for all" propaganda from the empire folks will look more hollow."

Or....those that wield the power will work to "form" people into that which suits the needs of the powerful

Ben @ 27

"Interesting discussion all, but, with few exceptions, the history of the world is replete with the greedy and avarice riddled folks choosing talk of "democracy" and "freedom" to further their ends. How to control these people, should be the debate."

They are best kept under control by denying them the power they need to rule

Posted by: Penny | Mar 4 2013 12:10 utc | 28

How to control these people should be the debate.


That discussion includes how the elites or robber barons or PTB for lack of a better encapsulating term, controls and manipulates ordinary citizens, and how these might possibly refuse, resist, and follow other sirens.

Branding ppl as brain-different, or sociopaths, narcissists, bi-polar, having attention deficit disorder, and the like for methods of control is not new, think USSR and schizophrenia.

In the USA it has become completely accepted that some ppl’s brains are deficient and they need therapy - blunting doping medication and monitoring thru talk or check ups, etc. etc. plus sometimes control by authority such as judiciary, police.

The dominant, the authoritarians and the nasty can control and eventually destroy - even within the tiny circle of a family - designated outcasts.

That the victims are not ethnically, socially etc. determined (in contra to Jews, Blacks, the poor who were promiscuous and diseased, etc. in the past) affords a legitimacy, it is all ‘Science’.

Which it was in the past as well, remember women had small brains and so were dumb and savages were well - horrifying.

Just this:


quote, abstract:

A revolution occurred within the psychiatric profession in the early 1980s that rapidly transformed the theory and practice of mental health in the United States. In a very short period of time, mental illnesses were transformed from broad, etiologically defined entities that were continuous with normality to symptom-based, categorical diseases. The third edition of the American Psychiatric Association's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-III) was responsible for this change. The paradigm shift in mental health diagnosis in the DSM-III was neither a product of growing scientific knowledge nor of increasing medicalization. Instead, its symptom-based diagnoses reflect a growing standardization of psychiatric diagnoses. This standardization was the product of many factors, including: (1) professional politics within the mental health community, (2) increased government involvement in mental health research and policymaking, (3) mounting pressure on psychiatrists from health insurers to demonstrate the effectiveness of their practices, and (4) the necessity of pharmaceutical companies to market their products to treat specific diseases. This article endeavors to explain the origins of DSM-III, the political struggles that generated it, and its long-term consequences for clinical diagnosis and treatment of mental disorders in the United States. © 2005 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.

Posted by: Noirette | Mar 4 2013 16:29 utc | 29

Interesting. I know in conversations with my Algerian wife's cousin, he suggested that they need a strong leader to rule them. I differed and think that perhaps all of you are wrong here. What we call "democracy" is one version of it. What does "democracy" mean? We're not a "democracy" but a "constitutional Republic" Whatever. Even the Caliph under ideal Islam gets his authority from the "consent of the governed." In Egypt, in Syria, those rulers depend on the consent of the governed, as do we here. In some ways, we're arguing semantics. That doesn't diminish b's excellent analysis. Psychology will never be a "science" as it's impossible to control for the human mind's ability to make meaning, to interpret the stimuli about us. That is an inherently mercurial and quixotic process, and attempts to make it a mechanical/causal process are futile. Of course, some could simply accuse all of you of being "Scientologists" who seem to have hit on effective critiques of psychology and an overly deterministic view of nature and man.

Posted by: scottindallas | Mar 5 2013 13:52 utc | 30

@ Noirette [#29],

I found this video, 'Wealth Inequality in America' very interesting.

Posted by: Daniel Rich | Mar 5 2013 21:46 utc | 31

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