Cross-posted to the Effective Altruism Forum (but with a brand new and improved structure)
I recently finished reading Henrich's 2020 book The WEIRDest People in the World: How the West Became Psychologically Peculiar and Particularly Prosperous. I would highly recommend it, along with Henrich's 2015 book The Secret of Our Success; I've roughly ranked them the 8th and 9th most useful-to-me of the 47 effective-altruism-related books I've read since learning about effective altruism (EA).
In this post, I'll:
My hope is that this will be a low-effort way for me to help some people to quickly:
(See also Should pretty much all content that's EA-relevant and/or created by EAs be (link)posted to the Forum?)
You may find it also/more useful to read
I wrote this quickly and only after finishing the book; take it all with a grain of salt.
Here are what I think are the four main ways in which WEIRDest People shifted my beliefs on relatively high-level points that seem potentially decision-relevant, as distinct from specific facts I learned:
See the bottom of this shortform for caveats about my Anki cards.
The indented parts are the questions, the answers are in "spoiler blocks" (hover over them to reveal the text), and the parts in square brackets are my notes-to-self.
Henrich's team found that people from more market-integrated societies made ___ offers in the ultimatum game (compared to people from less market-integrated societies)
Higher, more equal
Credence goods are...
those that buyers can't easily assess for quality (e.g. a steel sword, whose carbon content is hard to determine)
Henrich discusses strategies to allow trade to happen in absence of market norms. Three I found interesting were...
Silent trade; divine oaths; and a single, widely scattered clan or ethnic group handling all aspects of moving goods through a vast trade network
Four things Henrich said KII and prevalence of cousin marriage were positively correlated with were...
Seven things Henrich said KII, prevalence of cousin marriage, and/or contemporary KII were negatively correlated with were...
[Some of these things were measured by proxies I'm somewhat skeptical of the relevance/significance of.]
In India and China, analytic thinking (as measured using the triad task) is negatively correlated with...
Percentage of land under rice paddy cultivation
What are three effects Henrich suggests that exposure to war tends to have?
What 2 things does Henrich suggest has some similar effects to exposure to war?
Exposure to natural disasters
Nonviolent intergroup competition (e.g. between firms) [though he suggests this'll likely have smaller or no effects on religious devotion]
Henrich argues that at least 2 things (a) arose in part due to the emerging WEIRD psychology in the second millennium CE [and maybe the first as well?], and (b) then further contributed to the emergence of that WEIRD psychology. What are those 2 things?
[He may have also mentioned other things. E.g., I think maybe he sees scientific thinking, universities, and more rational legal systems as also fitting that bill.]
What were the two key findings of Gurven et al. (2013)? [This has to do with personality.]
[I learned of this study via Henrich's WEIRDest People.]
What does Henrich say increases suicide rates?
Rates of Protestants relative to Catholics in an area
[He says historical Protestantism rates increased suicide rates at that time. I can't remember if he also says historical P rates increase present suicide rates, or that present P rates increase present suicide rates. But I'm guessing he believes those things.]
Does Henrich seem to think Protestants tend to basically have more extreme versions of WEIRD tendencies than Catholics do?
Muthukrishna and Henrich argue that rates of innovation are heavily influenced by what 3 factors?
Henrich says that 4 voluntary associations (particularly) contributed to broadening the flow of knowledge and technology around Europe. These were:
Charter cities, monasteries, apprenticeships, universities
Henrich says that, historically, kings and other elites have tended to crack down on people with new ideas, inventions, or techniques that might shake up the existing power structure. He says this problem was mitigated in Europe [maybe just in the second millennium CE?] by 2 factors:
[So people and groups could escape oppression by moving to other places.]
Henrich says it seems like banking deregulation increased ___, which in turn increased ___.
Interfirm competition; impersonal trust
What was the main way Henrich updated me away from the impression I'd gotten from Muehlhauser's industrial revolution post?
Henrich seems to provide strong evidence that key trends started long before 1750 (some starting in the first millennium CE, most starting by 1200-1500)
[See caveats in the "My four main updates" section.]
The emergence of sedentary agriculture drove a(n) ____ in/of kin-based institutions.
[This led to norms related to things like cousin marriage, corporate ownership, patrilocal residence, segmentary lineages, and ancestor worship.]
Diamond argues that continents that are spread out in an ___ direction, such as ___, had a developmental advantage because of ___.
the ease with which crops, animals, ideas and technologies could spread between areas of similar latitude
[Quoting a PBS webpage on Guns, Germs and Steel.]
What does Henrich say is the basic relationship between his arguments and Diamond's arguments in Guns, Germs and Steel?
Henrich's arguments essentially pick up where Diamond's arguments leave off
[I.e. Diamond's arguments explain global inequality up to ~1000CE well, but don't explain things like why the Industrial Revolution happened in Britain, whereas Henrich's arguments can explain those later events.]
Henrich says that one reason why democracy hasn't been taken up as effectively/thoroughly in Islamic countries is that Islam...
Says daughters should inherit half of what sons inherit (rather than nothing/very little), which likely drove the spread of and/or sustained a custom in which daughters marry their father's brother's sons, or more broadly a custom of marrying within clans. [This is to keep wealth within a family/clan.]
This encourages intensive forms of kinship, which favours certain ways of thinking and institutions that don't mesh well with democracy.
[I may be slightly misrepresenting the ideas.
Japan, South Korea, and China have been able to adapt relatively rapidly to the economic configurations and global opportunities created by WEIRD societies. Henrich says that one factor that was likely important in that was that these societies had experienced long histories of ___, which had ___.
agriculture and state-level governance;
fostered the evolution of cultural values, customs, and norms encouraging formal education, industriousness, and a willingness to defer gratification.
[These can be seen as pre-existing cultural institutions that happened to dovetail nicely with the new institutions acquired from WEIRD societies.]
Japan, South Korea, and China have been able to adapt relatively rapidly to the economic configurations and global opportunities created by WEIRD societies. Henrich says that one factor that was likely important in that was that these societies had powerful ___, which ___.
helped them rapidly adopt and implement key kin-based institutions acquired from WEIRD societies (e.g. abolishing polygamy, clans, arranged marriages).
Henrich says studies on the effects of evolution by natural selection (not cultural selection) on length of time people spend in school indicate that...
Evolution by natural selection reduced that time by about 8 months over the 20th century
[And by about 1.5 months per generation - maybe just more recently.
But this was very much offset by cultural evolution increasing the length of time in school by a larger amount.]
 See here for the article that inspired me to actually start using Anki properly. Hat tip to Michelle Hutchinson for linking to that article and thus prompting me to read it. Note that some of the Anki cards that I made and include in this post violate some of the advice in that article - in particular, the advice to try to ensure that questions and answers each express only one idea.
 Caveats about these Anki cards: