Cultural Differences

inverse culturesWhat drives cultural differences? I saw a couple of stories about countries that explain their underlying psyches in broad strokes.

In one story involving 14 countries, the US ranked second worst (only Italy was worse) in a recent survey about citizens’ knowledge of their respective countries. Citizens were asked what they thought the numbers were for things like teenage birth rates, unemployment rates, and immigration. Check out some of the answers:

Americans guessed that the unemployment rate is 32%, actually it’s 6%.

Americans guessed 15% US population identifies as Muslim when it’s only 1%.

70% of Americans guessed the US murder rate was rising, but it’s less than half of what it was in 1992.

Americans guessed almost 24% of girls aged 15-19 give birth each year. Hold on, it’s 3.1%.

Truthfully, I wouldn’t know the exact percentages either, but I think I’d have been a lot closer to the mark. But the responses seem to indicate that Americans have a heightened level of fear and worry that’s probably driven by unwarranted fears. We think most things are much worse than they are, and act accordingly. Look at all the regressive US politicians promising a return to the good ol’ days preying on scared, misinformed voters.

The drumbeat of unemployment, Muslims, immigration, murder, and teen pregnancy on the news doesn’t give Americans a good idea of what’s happening. And they’re so busy trying to get along in the system, they become too tired and uninterested to pay attention.

Which leads me to the next story, about Scandinavia. Why do Scandinavians put up with high taxes that would drive most Americans to revolt?

Scandinavian countries spend big on providing and subsidizing things that  complement working, like care for children and the elderly, healthcare, and transportation, basically the tiresome bullshit that wears Americans down. Scandinavian policies  subsidize the costs of market work, encouraging a labor supply. And they spend heavily on education, which is complementary to long-term labor supply. All this offsets some resentment toward high taxes.

Does the amount of tiresome bullshit Americans endure become inversely proportional to the amount of control they feel over their lives? Control is built and felt through a combination of skills, an optimistic attitude, money, and of course time and energy to consider what’s really going on in their world.

When the tiresome bullshit level is too high, people can’t pay attention to what’s really going on around them, they feel like a crab in a bucket full of crabs, and tend to make the safe choice of assuming everything around them is worse than it is.