Moral Progress: Expanding the Human Mind | Dr. Christian Welzel | TEDxLeuphanaUniversityLüneburg


Translator: Ivana Krivokuća
Reviewer: Denise RQ Hello everybody. I’m here tonight to share with you two of the most fundamental
insights of my research, of which I truly believe
many more people should know about. First, humanity as a whole has over the last couple
of decades experienced a massive and actually unprecedented
transformation of moral values. Second, and even more importantly,
this transformation is a good thing, because it brings to the surface
the better moral qualities of our species. Well, hearing that, you might think, “This person must live
in a different reality.” Haven’t I heard about Brexit, Trump, rising populism, right-wing extremism, global terrorism,
religious fundamentalism, and all the other indications
of our moral decline? Indeed, influential critics
tried to convince us since the ages that our undeniable technological progress is counteracted by a moral digression, which opens a growing discrepancy between our technological capacities
and our moral qualities. The problem of the critics, however, is they never proved their point
by systematic evidence through hard facts. What they usually do
is cherry-picking examples that fit their claims,
but leaving out others that don’t. Let’s try a different approach. Let’s have a look
at a collection of systematic data of what people from all corners
around the world think is morally right or wrong. That data collection
exists for several decades, so what we can do, as well,
is look at change over time, if there is any, and then if,
in what direction is it going. The data collection I’m referring to
is knows as the World Values Survey. If you’re interested in the details
and how this study is conducted, you can go at their website,
which is on display here. In blue colors, we see
the countries in the world that have been surveyed at least once
by the World Values Survey. This is more than 100 countries. But more importantly, we cover in each global region
the biggest national population. We have China, and Japan, in East Asia. We have India, Indonesia, in South Asia. We have Nigeria and South Africa,
in Sub-Saharan Africa. We have Egypt, Iran, Turkey
in the Middle East. We have the US
in North America, of course. We have Brazil and Argentina covered
in South America, and so on and so forth. So we can claim that our data represent more than 90% of the world population, which is significant. We find in this data
a whole host of moral differences between people and between entire nations. But, we sifted through this data
for many years, and it turns out that most of these differences
boil down to just two, just two key domains
of cultural variation. One of them you see
on the horizontal axis, where it spans a continuum
from sacred to secular values. Populations on the left end emphasize the sacred sources
of authority, especially religion, but also the nation,
the state, the family. Populations on the right
have a secular distance to these sources of authority,
especially, again, religion. The second dimension
is on the vertical axis, and it spans a polarity between patriarchal
and emancipative values. At the lower end, at the patriarchal end, populations emphasize
male superiority over women in the areas of education,
in the areas of access to jobs, and in the areas of political power. They also emphasize strict authority
of parents over their children and such things as strict discipline,
law and order, and related things. Populations at the upper end,
at the emancipative end, emphasize women’s equality to men. Child autonomy, self-determination,
and democratic voice is part of what they emphasize. You see, there is
a lot of countries covered here, but another interesting point
is that these many nations cluster into a much smaller number
of what we call “culture zones,” which map on these
cultural differences, as well, as you have seen before. We colored blue
the Western cultural zones, and it’s apparent that they differ
from the non-Western culture zones, especially on the dimension
of patriarchal versus emancipative values, where the Western culture
is actually defined, in a sense, by an emphasis on emancipation much more
than other cultural zones in the world, and even the Protestant West
sticks even more out here, and the biggest cultural distance
that we find is between the Protestant West
and the Islamic world, with many people in the Islamic world emphasizing sacred values
and patriarchal values, and most of the people
in the Protestant West emphasizing secular values,
and especially emancipative values. Scholars usually consider
such cultural distances, or differences, as a constant, as enduring traits
of national mentalities. This overlooks, however, how much dynamics
there was over recent decades in these moral values. Surprisingly, all cultural zones
of the world have uniformly moved in the same direction. Even the Islamic world,
even in Sub-Saharan Africa, we see a movement towards more secular, and especially towards
more emancipative values. On the other hand, it is also clear
that the Western cultures made a much farther space
in that direction, so their move is even more pronounced, which means that the emancipatory outlook
of Western culture is nowadays even more pronounced
than it already has been decades ago. So, the fact that all cultural zones
are moving in the same direction does not lead to convergence. Cultural differences
have actually become bigger, which is an issue of conflict. Looking at the forces
that might be driving this change towards emancipative values,
we get a hint here. We see knowledge economies,
which are those countries that obtain their wealth
from high-end products and services. We have industrial economies,
which are those countries that obtain their wealth
from cheap workbench production. So, those ones into
which we outsource our labor a lot. And we have agrarian/oil economies, obtaining their wealth
from natural products and raw materials. A criterion distinguishing these economies
is what I call the enlightenment forces, which is: education,
knowledge, and science. These enlightenment forces
are the most pronounced, most powerful, in the knowledge economies,
more so than in the industrial economies, which, in turn, have them more powerful
than agrarian and oil economies. And here we can see that it is worthwhile
to send our children into school and to universities and to college,
and let them enjoy education. It is a transformative force. In all three types of economies, we see that people
who have obtained more education emphasize emancipative values
more strongly. Again, this is more pronounced
in knowledge economies, where the enlightenment forces
are most powerful. If you ask yourself the question: is that move towards
stronger emancipative values, is this something good, is this positive? From the viewpoint
of democracy, it certainly is. Because here we can see
that over the decades, from 1950 to 2010, culture zones have made a shift from more autocratic
to more democratic circumstances, to about the extent
to which their populations have shifted from patriarchal
to emancipative values. You can actually see
that oftentimes, a move to the right – that means, towards
more emancipative values – precedes a move upward, which suggests
that the value change is causal for the subsequent change in institutions, and not the other way around. An even more fundamental reason
why we can consider the rise of emancipative values
as a force of enlightenment, is these values tendency to produce what I call
“moral universalism.” That is, the widening
of our circles of solidarity to an extent to an outer rim
planet in humanity, where the concerns about these things
defy group divisions, because everyone is included. Patriarchal values, by contrast, favor the opposite moral tendency
towards moral parochialism. What is that? That means the narrowing down
of the solidarity circle. “My nation first”, “America first” – these are the slogans that depict
that moral tendency. Here we can see the shift from
patriarchal to emancipative values is indeed related to a shift
from moral parochialism to moral universalism, through the expansion
of our circles of solidarity, of our empathy for others. This is measured here, for example, by environmental concern
about global change and by fighting poverty in the world. So, the concern for the planet
and for humanity is covered here. But there are also problems. The rise of emancipative values
has also created cultural conflict over moral universalism
versus parochialism. This applies to a particular segment
of Western electorates. There is a segment of the population that has been left behind
by the emancipatory mainstream, that does not get a lot of education, and accordingly is working
in low-skilled manual jobs that are threatened
to be outsourced to other countries. The working class, to simplify it. This working class
in the economic conflict between social security
and market competition, it’s located on the left. Also, ideologically on the left,
they are in favor of social security, and this is where usually leftist parties,
social democratic parties, the Democratic Party in the US
contacts, picks these voters up. However, on the moral conflict
between universalism and parochialism, they’re on the parochial end. This is a moral conflict;
this is not an economic conflict. These people want to narrow
the circle of solidarity. Again, “My nation first,”
“Make America great again.” And let no immigrants
in anymore, build a wall. This is parochialism, and these people
are located there for reasons. This is where now
the rising forces of populism, Vlaams Blok and Front national in France, the Liberal Party in Austria, where they, including Trump in the United States,
pick these people up as their voters. The other area
of emerging cultural conflict over issues of emancipation
is immigration. Especially immigration
from non-Western populations into Western countries. I exemplify this here
at the case of Germany, which is a very typical
post-industrial Western society. The left bar shows
that the native, host population born in Germany, German citizens, they score very high
on emancipative values. Sixty-two percent of this population emphasizes this type of values strongly. First-generation immigrants,
which is the lower bar on the right side, are very, very different. They emphasize these values
not even to 20% of this group, and these are immigrants
from non-Western cultures. Of course, it creates
a cultural gap over these issues, and these are important lifestyle issues. Gender equality,
tolerance of homosexuality, all these issues are related to that. Given the centrality
that emancipative values have for a healthy democracy, this is not trivial. This is a challenge, and we need
to face it in order to tackle it. The good news, however,
is we can master the challenge, because it’s also obvious from the data – and these are the three bars
in the middle – that second-generation immigrants
already are very close in their emphasis on emancipative values
where the host population is. So obviously, socialization
in this country does work. Which relates us to the point: can we strengthen the effectiveness and the pace
of that socialization process? Can we do that? And this relates me to my final point,
which is actually a call for action. I believe what we need to do is to thoroughly rethink
our civic education programs and to target them particularly
to the immigrant population. Most importantly, what we also need
to do while doing this, is to place the psychology
of emancipative values center stage in the curriculum of these programs. (Applause)

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