The WEIRDest Bullshit in the World
We, as WEIRD (Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, Democratic) people, have better stuff than non-weird people. We have better food, better clothes, better tools, better transportation, and better entertainment.
Why? Because we live in densely interconnected, capitalist societies where companies compete to provide us with goods and services at the highest quality and the lowest price. The result is an orgy of abundance and a bewildering variety of consumer enticements competing for our tiny attention spans.
In addition to having better stuff, we have better bullshit.
Bullshit is a product. It can be better or worse. It can be more or less effective. Companies compete to offer us that product, just as companies compete to offer us the best hamburgers and toothpaste. Newspapers, magazines, blogs, podcasts, movies, TV shows, books—all these offer us a cornucopia of different kinds of bullshit to choose from. Bullshit that speaks to us. Bullshit that reflects who we are. Like our junk food and our pornography, our bullshit is a superstimulus. It’s survived endless cycles of market competition, and it’s the sweetest smelling bullshit in the world.
I heard a story by an anthropologist friend of mine a few years ago, and it really drove the point home for me. The anthropologist was talking to a local villager where he was doing research, and the villager asked him why he was there. The anthropologist replied, “I like to learn things about people.” The villager responded, “Why?” The anthropologist replied, “It makes me happy.” The villager looked puzzled. “That is a strange thing to want. Why don’t you want something useful?”
Apparently, the idea that people do things for happiness is not a culturally universal idea. It’s a WEIRD creation, like Coca Cola, McDonalds, and AT&T.
I’ve already argued that no one wants to be happy, and that when we say we want to be happy, we’re bullshitting. But what I didn’t realize was that the “pursuit of happiness” meme is a commodity. It’s a product of market competition. It’s exquisitely crafted, focus-group-tested bullshit designed to mask our unflattering motives and justify crass consumerism.
The “pursuit of happiness” meme is just the tip of the iceberg. We get boatloads of psycho-bullshit from therapists, academics, sociologists, and self-help gurus. We use our childhoods and our parents as bullshit excuses for everything we do, even though our upbringing has barely any influence on who we turn out to be—it’s mostly genes and chaos. We blame everything on imperceptible cultural forces that control everything and are caused by nothing—“the media,” “society,” or “the system.” We talk about “authenticity,” which is supposed be who we really are, even though it’s just who we want to be seen as.
We’re also drowning in political bullshit. We’ve got politicians, pundits, podcasters, op-eds, partisan academics, and slanted news sources, all offering a plethora of moral rationalizations for the cobbled-together, historically contingent policies we’re supposed to support to show allegiance to our political tribe. We gobble up bullshit about how we’re intellectually and morally superior to millions of people who have the same human nature as us—a human nature which includes the tendency to see outgroup competitors as intellectually and morally inferior.
Thanks to the cornucopia of bullshit, we always have the right thing to say at the right time. We always have the perfect platitude, zinger, one-liner, or talking point at the tip of our tongue. It’s probably intimidating to people who weren’t raised in our WEIRD culture. It probably makes us seem like a society of smooth-talking salesman who can convince anyone of anything. When people unacquainted with our bullshit first encounter it, they’re probably awed and terrified.
To all the anthropologists and world travelers out there, I’m genuinely curious: do non-WEIRD cultures share our most advanced forms of bullshit?
Do they talk about authenticity, humility, not caring about status, and bravely challenging social norms the same way we do?
Do they think they are special, enlightened humans who have transcended the dark side of human nature?
Do they think they don’t care what other people think?
I suspect the answer to most of these questions is “no.” These are advanced forms of bullshit that can only be found in our wild, WEIRD world.
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