W.E.I.R.D.

This acronym refers to Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich and Democratic societies. Most research is conducted on, and conducted by, relatively homogeneous samples from WEIRD societies. This limits the generalizability of a large number of research findings, particularly given that WEIRD people are often psychological outliers. It has been argued that “WEIRD psychology ” started to evolve culturally as a result of societal changes and religious beliefs in the Middle Ages in Europe. Critics of this term suggest it presents a binary view of the global population and erases variation that exists both between and within societies, and that other aspects of diversity are not captured.

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W.E.I.R.D. stands for Western, Educated, Industrialised, Rich, and Democratic. As long as society confuses homo economicus with homo sapiens we are more than “a bit off course”.

The exploitative nature of our “civilised” cultures is top of mind for many neurodivergent people. In contrast, many neuronormative people seem to deal with the trauma via denial, resulting in profound levels of cognitive dissonance.

The Beauty of Collaboration at Human Scale: Timeless patterns of human limitations

Often neurodivergent people get penalised for attempting to do any of the cool things that they love and would like to learn more about. W.E.I.R.D. cultures kill curiosity & intrinsic motivation, and they do so systematically, resulting in a dangerous collective learning disability.

W.E.I.R.D. societies can learn a lot from indigenous cultures and from other marginalised cultures, such as autistic culture. Pathologisation of autism and other dimensions of neurodiversity is a social power game that removes agency from neurodivergent people. Social progress is overdue.

The Beauty of Collaboration at Human Scale: Timeless patterns of human limitations

Non-typical learning profiles are disabling within W.E.I.R.D. monocultures.

Disabled neurodivergent people that refuse to permanently confine themselves to the box of W.E.I.R.D. constraints tend to be pushed into completely meaningless work that harms them and others.

The Beauty of Collaboration at Human Scale: Timeless patterns of human limitations

The selected perspectives and extracts of written history that are typically covered in the basic educational curriculum in W.E.I.R.D. cultures (Western, Educated, Industrialised, Rich, Democratic) are heavily influenced to this day by the progress myth and sense of cultural superiority that defined the European colonial and industrial eras. When taking a less biased look at human cultural evolution from an anthropological and archaeological perspective, a much more diverse, non-linear and colourful picture emerges.

If these factors are taken together, the result is a very W.E.I.R.D. (Western Educated Industrialised Rich Democratic) myth of progress and superiority in which capital plays the dominant role in structuring social power relationships.

The Beauty of Collaboration at Human Scale: Timeless patterns of human limitations

The notion of disability in W.E.I.R.D. societies is underscored by a bizarre conception of “independence”. Autists depend on assistance from others in ways that differ from the cultural norm – and that is pathologised. However, the many ways in which non-autistic people depend on others is considered “normal”, or rather it is brushed under the carpet.

W.E.I.R.D. societies prefer to forget that humans have evolved to live in highly collaborative groups, with strong interdependencies between individuals and in many cases between groups. In our pre-civilised past all human groups were small, and interdependence and the need for mutual assistance was obvious to all members of a group. The tools of civilisation, including money, have undermined our appreciation of interdependence, and within the Western world have culminated in a toxic cult of competitive individualism, which amongst the non-autistic population ironically leads to extreme levels of groupthink.

The Beauty of Collaboration at Human Scale: Timeless patterns of human limitations

All the people who are unable to or who hesitate to play the competitive social game are systematically disadvantaged in all civilised societies. But W.E.I.R.D. societies go one step further, they systematically pathologise all those who are not fully “functional” and “culturally well adjusted” machines within the factory model of society. The pathology paradigm ensures that all defective machines are identified and to the greatest possible extent are corrected by suitable therapies and medical interventions, to get as close to normal “functioning” as possible. The implicit assumptions of the pathology paradigm: ​

  1. The W.E.I.R.D. social game is the pinnacle of “civilisation” achieved so far. ​
  2. The arrow of “progress” is advanced by playing the social game. ​
  3. The “purpose” of society is to perpetuate the social game. ​
  4. Every human who knows how and is willing to play the W.E.I.R.D. social game is equipped for a happy and “successful” life. ​
  5. Addressing individual “functional deficits” in relation to W.E.I.R.D. norms are the key to a healthy society. ​​
  6. Non-W.E.I.R.D.-compliant notions of a fulfilled life are irrelevant and represent a threat to the “normal functioning” of society.
  7. ​​Individuals with “functional deficits” must be grateful for all services and assistance that is made available to improve their level of “functioning”. ​​
  8. Individuals with “spiky skills profiles” must be grateful for all “opportunities” to contribute to the social game.
  9. ​​Individuals with “functional deficits”, and especially those who question the value of the social game, clearly “don’t understand the bigger picture”, and can’t possibly have anything of value to contribute to society.
  10. ​​The W.E.I.R.D. social game reflects the axioms of human nature, and researchers can safely assume the W.E.I.R.D. axioms to be true when designing research experiments, when conducting experiments, when designing and running computer simulations of collective human social behaviour, and when interpreting research results.

There are many further implicit assumptions of the pathology paradigm, but most can be traced back to one or more of the above W.E.I.R.D. axioms about human societies.

For autistic people it is a waste of time engaging in conversation with neuronormative people who are unfamiliar with the pseudo-scientific foundations and the ideological bias of the W.E.I.R.D. social game. To be very clear, autistic and otherwise neurodivergent people are not the next stage of human evolution. Neurodivergent people have been and always will be an integral part of human societies. However, the way they are perceived and embedded in society varies greatly depending on the norms of the surrounding culture.

The Beauty of Collaboration at Human Scale: Timeless patterns of human limitations

Critical social scientists regularly point out that the entire discipline of psychology is best understood as the study of human behaviour in W.E.I.R.D. cultures. Its identical twin is the discipline of marketing. The cultural bias is extreme. Lila MacLellan (2019) examines a good example of the flaky foundations and of the frequently encountered bias. I have started to extend WEIRD to WEIRDT : Western Educated Industrialised Rich Democratic Theatre. Everything in this theatre is about perception – there is no substance or connection to the physical and ecological context outside the theatre.

The Beauty of Collaboration at Human Scale: Timeless patterns of human limitations

The way I see it, autistic people have their place in the emerging world, and in many cases that place will not be in large government organisations or in corporations, but in non-hierarchical organisations and networks of mutual aid formed by autistic and otherwise neurodivergent people, which can offer a level of psychological safety that can’t otherwise be achieved within W.E.I.R.D. societies.

The Beauty of Collaboration at Human Scale: Timeless patterns of human limitations

Published by Ryan Boren

#ActuallyAutistic retired technologist turned wannabe-sociologist. Equity literate education, respectfully connected parenting, passion-based learning, indie ed-tech, neurodiversity, social model of disability, design for real life, inclusion, open web, open source. he/they