Wednesday, 26 August 2015

Brooks' finding of individualism in cool lands

The cultural differences between Australia and other OECD nations are obvious merely from their different environmental and political policies – especially as those with any education will know how vastly older and more distinctive Australia’s flora, fauna and ecology is compared to the relatively universal and structurally uniform ecosystems that occur on young Enriched World soils.

Over the years, I have seen many and consistently opposiing explanations for observed cultural differences – which can be much deeper than is apparent from a surficial look at popular images of various cultures around the globe.

Although there are obvious flaws in Botero’s attempt to relate the two arguments, Carlos Botero and Russel Gray’s ‘The Ecology of Religious Beliefs’, John Snarey’s 1996 ‘The Natural Environment’s Impact upon Religious Ethics: A Cross-Cultural Study’ and Dustin Rubinstein’s ‘Environmental Uncertainty and the Global Biogeography of Cooperative Breeding in Birds’ suggest that Australia’s conservative policies are linked to a variable environment with a strong sense of community and cooperation. The more activist policies of the Enriched and Tropical Worlds are linked to lower climate variability and stronger individualism, which reduces the level of support in response to unforeseen variability in climate.

In his article ‘What Vacations Say about You’ in today’s Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Arthur C. Brooks – most famous for his landmark study of private charity Who Really Cares: the Surprising Truth about Compassionate Conservatism – demonstrates that people who prefer to holiday – and one presumes to live – in mountainous regions tend to be more introverted than those who prefer the sea. This translates, given the fact that beaches tend to be in hot climates (where swimming is comfortable) and mountainous regions are inherently cool due to altitudinal “lapse” (jargon for temperature decrease due to adiabatic cooling), into a preference among introverts for cool climates and extroverts for hot ones.

Because introverts are more concerned about their own thoughts and feelings than others around them, they tend to be more creative and individualistic than extroverts, who tend to try to conform to cultural expectations. If we combine this empirical observation with the results of Brooks – actually done by psychologists from the University of Virginia and published in Journal of Research in Personality – one sees quite independent support for the findings of Botero, Snarey and Rubinstein that people in cool climates tend to be more individualistic than those in hot ones.

The implications of this result for global politics, culture and environment are profound. My personal experience with Australian politics and art shows extremes of conformity compared to the Enriched World. I have noticed Australian conformism and lack of creativity since I first read music reviews in The Age’s EG twenty years ago, but the writers were to my mind quietly baffled by why Australia never produced innovative artists. All these recent studies seem to quite conclusively demonstrate that conformism and risk-aversion is inherent (potentially necessary) in the oligotrophic, climatically erratic Australian environment, because risk might produce extreme and permanent food shortages and/or ecological collapse.

Risk-aversion may also explain the absence of encephalisation and cultural development among Australian Aborigines and Bushmen before improved fertilisers and lithophile metallurgy permitted their distant colonisation and economic development.

Paradoxically, in certain modern cases – most critically refusal among the mortgage belt to accept the smallest risk that transfer of investment from roads and coal to cleaner public transit and solar energy might reduce mobility or the reliability of household electricity – risk-aversion actually places Australia’s population at greater long-term risk (from greenhouse pollution and resultant radical climatic changes). This paradox is no doubt both an essential cause of the present ecological crisis and one that makes solving it so difficult.

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