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Once Amish, then shunned and now I’m rich

I grew up Amish in a small Berks County community.
Like most Amish children I only had an eighth grade education.
Being Amish is all I knew and is what all my parents and their parents knew.
I got married to a girl named Olga when we were both 18 years old.
The only kind of work I knew was farming. I didn’t have enough money to buy my own land, so I would work on one of the church elder’s farmland named Mark.
With the help of Mark, I built a small house on the farmland where I worked, which I didn’t own but was allowed to live their rent free in exchange for the farm work that I did.
Since we didn’t have electricity or indoor plumbing I bypassed having to get building permits.
My wife and I eventually had three daughters. Mary who was two years old, Rebecca who was four and Sarah the oldest at six.
Sarah was ready to attend school for the first time.
My wife got Sarah ready for school which was only a short walk which passed by a few Amish houses on the way.
Something terrible happened when Sarah walked to school.
One of the church elders named Samuel, who Olga told Sarah to stay away from, tried to coerce Sarah to go into his barn.
Luckily Sarah was able to run away.
Olga told me that Samuel had targeted girls ever since she was a young girl.
I was fed up and I did the unthinkable, I went to the police instead of going to the other church elders.
The police arrested Samuel and put him in jail until his court date.
I felt relieved that Sarah could go to school without having to worry about a monster en route.
However, this had caused a lot of unwanted attention to the Amish community, so me and my family received the harshest punishment known to the Amish. We were shunned.
Mark and Samuel were brothers and because of that Mark gave us one month to vacate our house and get off his land.
Both Olga’s and my parents completely shunned us as ordered by the elders.
Olga and I were devastated from the rejection of our parents. Our kids couldn’t see their grandparents anymore.
I only had $500 dollars to figure out where to live and get food for all of us.
I have never taken a bus, but I have seen them when I go into town.
When Olga was pregnant the Mennonite community would offer assistance with making sure Olga was progressing in a healthy manner.
So I took my bicycle to the Mennonite outreach center.
The Mennonite woman at the desk named Abigail told me to come back in two days to give her time to figure things out.
I rode my bike home. Olga is overwhelmed and crying. I tried to console her and told her hopefully the Mennonites could find somewhere for us.
Two long days had went bye and I went to meet Abigail again.
Abigail told me that their church would donate to us a cabin on the outskirts of the Weiser State Forest, where I could hunt and fish for subsistence.
I really had no choice so I agreed to live in the cabin.
Abigail said that there would be a moving truck at our current house by the end of the week and she said that she would drive us to the new cabin.
Everything has happened so fast that I hadn’t had time to take in everything.
Truth be told I have fished a few times but I never hunted, though I have used a rifle to put down an ailing horse.
My wife and I made a decree to never speak Pennsylvania German again and to not teach our kids German.
I also asked Abigail for assistance in enrolling Sarah into the local public school where the cabin was located, which Abigail agreed.
Also Abigail donated a bunch of used clothing for all of us.
She took Olga to Walmart to buy a bunch of non perishable food with the money I had.
With all of our belongings packed up in the moving truck, Abigail drove us to the cabin which was about an hour’s drive away.
The cabin was more isolated then I had imagined. Abigail had to drive almost a half mile through a dirt road to get to the cabin.
The Mennonite gentleman who drove the truck named Isaac helped me carry everything into the cabin.
Isaac gave me an axe, some shovels and a bunch of matches, then they left.
I tried to cheer Olga up. The kids were too young to understand the enormity of everything, so they just ran around and played.
The cabin had two rooms with a rustic kitchen and a small dinning and living room.
We would have to use the creek for all of our water, which thankfully there were plastic buckets left on the property.
Also there was a rifle with bullets, fishing equipment, and an outhouse.
I surveyed the land. The creek was abbot 50 yards from the cabin. The cabin was surrounded by trees and none of the land was tilled for farming.
Sarah was to start school in three days.
Abigail told Olga to have Sarah ready at the end of the driveway on Monday to start kindergarten, where the bus would pick her up at 8:00 am.
I had seeds but no animals and no real farming equipment to till the land just an axe and shovels.
I knew it would take weeks to clear the land to grow crops with the tools I had.
Olga knew how to dry out food to make it last for the winter.
There were a bunch of crab apple trees as well which Olga had planned on canning.
We set up the three beds for the girls and got the rest of the cabin situated.
The next day I dug for worms and went fishing in the creek. I brought my rifle in case I saw deer or any other animals.
I stood at the edge of the creek and caught two fish which were each about eight inches long.
Olga came to check on me and she took the fish to prepare for dinner.
I knew the two fish weren’t going to be enough for the five of us so I decided to focus on hunting for deer or something else substantial.
I didn’t have a hunting license, however we were so remote that no one would know that I was hunting.
I sat in the woods for three hours and I didn’t see one deer.
I’m starting to panic because I didn’t want to eat into our food supplies.
I went back to the cabin frustrated. Olga and I brainstormed and she came up with an idea of looking for animal trails through the thick brush.
This way I would know that eventually an animal would come bye.
I decided to cut down a couple of trees before dinner. Cutting the trees down was a pain but getting the stumps out was going to take me hours for each one.
After getting the second tree stump out I went inside to eat dinner.
In our culture the kids eat whatever is giving to them and they are to be grateful for it, so I didn’t want to hear the complaining from the kids when it was time to eat the fish and rice.
The younger kids reluctantly ate and then Olga was going to read them a Bible story to help them go to bed.
I told Olga there was going to be no more religion. Our church and our families abandoned us so we no long needed either of them.
Olga seemed shocked because religion was something that was forced on us from birth but she didn’t argue and didn’t tell the kids a Bible story.
I started a fire in the fireplace. The goal was to have ambers continually going that way we wouldn’t waste our matches, that Olga needed for the wood burning stove.
Today is Sunday and I was going to break the Amish tradition of resting.
There was going to be no religion and i was going to work the whole day.
Olga was getting Sarah ready for Kindergarten tomorrow. Sarah was excited and we were going to have her look and dress as close to the other girls at school.
I went out to hunt. I brought a knife and my rifle. After looking along the creek for a half hour I saw a trail that led out to the creek.
I decided to walk about 50 yards onto the trail and then I moved off the trail.
I waited and waited and nothing came. Just when I was was about to leave I heard crumbling leaves from a distance. I looked to my left and saw a herd of deer coming.
I removed the safety from the rifle and waited for the deer to get a little closer.
I knew I wasn’t accurate enough to get the perfect shot but I knew if I hit it anywhere on the deer then eventually it would die.
I aimed the rifle and took a shot at the closest deer and they all ran away. I went over to where they were and eventually I saw a blood trail. I followed the trail and I came across the deer that had fallen and appeared dead.
I had never field prepared a deer before but I watched my uncle do it as a kid. I knew I had to get rid of it’s bowels so I carefully cut its stomach area then I made a slit wide enough where I could pull the bowels out.
The fact that I was starving made it less disgusting.
Then I carried the deer back to the cabin on my shoulders.
Olga and the kids were jumping for joy when they saw me.
Olga and I prepared the deer. We knew we could get about 50 pounds of meat from the deer which was a big relief.
It took us several hours but we got a good amount of meat off the deer.
There was a general store a little less than five miles away, so I decided to take my bike to see what they had.
I arrived at the store and met the owner Gus who was a longtime resident. I introduced myself and told him the cabin where we moved into.
He was aware of its location. He told me that he would donate used clothing anytime we needed it.
Gus said that he would pay various amounts of money for different furs like five dollars for deer skin and $100 dollars for bear skin.
I was pleasantly surprised to hear that and figured at least I would have some kind of income source.
Also, Gus warned me to keep the cabin Locked at night and be weary during the days.
He said that unfortunately the road that led to the cabin was used to transport methamphetamines and my cabin was a known meeting place.
Also he told me that hunters have used the cabin as well.
Gus gave me an old mailbox and other stuff to put on the driveway that led to my cabin to include no trespassing signs.
I thanked Gus and rode my bike back home.
I told Olga about our cabin and to watch out for drug smugglers and hunters.
Olga and I were both mortified but we had no other options on where to live. I have an eighth grade education and I speak with a German accent. I have never driven a car or used any type of power tools.
I wanted to make our new cabin work so I put up the mailbox and the no trespassing signs to help deter unwanted people from coming onto our property.
We ate deer meat for dinner which will probably be our nightly staple.
I made a smokehouse out of wood and stone on the property to dehydrate the meat.
I bought hair clips and other accessories at Gus’ store for Sarah’s first day of school.
Sarah was so excited the night before that she virtually ran around the cabin until she went to sleep.
As the kids passed out, I couldn’t sleep so I went to the creek to fish to think about everything on my mind.
As I sat on a rock with my fishing line in the water I heard a low flying airplane. It was one of those smaller ones that were about the size of two cars.
Then I saw somebody push something out of the plane.
I could see the large package free fall into the woods not far from where I was sitting.
I don’t think the people on the plane saw me fishing on the rock.
I decided to go and inspect the package. As I got closer I noticed there was actually two packages. I tried to pick up one of them but it must of weighed 500 pounds.
The packages were carefully wrapped. I wasn’t sure if the people on the plane were just trying to get rid of the packages or someone was going to come get them. I decided to just leave them for now.
I went back to the cabin and told Olga about the packages. Unfortunately, the both of us had lived in a sheltered environment our whole lives so we didn’t know about things that people learn from watching television or reading the news.
I told her that we will just let those packages sit there for a week. I’ll try to conceal them from hunters with weeds for a week and if no one comes then we’ll inspect the packages.
The packages did nothing to ease my tension. I kept the rifle next to my bed with the door to my house locked.
Olga wakes up early so I didn’t have to worry about Sarah missing her school bus in the morning.
The morning came and Sarah was all ready for school. Olga took Sarah down to the creek to get washed up for school. Fortunately, it was a mild September morning.
We dressed Sarah up to look as close to the other girls as possible. Unfortunately the only frame of reference that we had were the brief encounters of the young girls that we saw at the various stores we went to, but we were going to try our hardest to make Sarah look and act like the other girls.
The five of us walked to the end of the driveway. The school bus was a little late so we waited for a half hour. The three girls were so excited especially when they saw the bus come up the road.
The flashing lights came on and the female driver introduced herself. She was really nice. I could tell Sarah was nervous but we encouraged her to go onto the bus.
I felt so apprehensive because Sarah lived in a bubble like us. She never watched TV and had no idea what none Amish kids like doing, but I knew in the long run going to a regular school would be the best for her.
The bus left and the four of us walked back to the cabin. Mary and Rebecca couldn’t wait until they could go to school.
I decided to try to clear out more of the trees to make farmland. It was such a slow arduous process. I worked all day until it was time for Sarah’s bus to drop her off. I had managed to cut down five trees and uproot them.
We all waited for Sarah to get off the bus at the end of the driveway. Our two little girls were so excited to see the bus coming.
Sarah came off the bus and hugged us. She was so excited.
We went back to the cabin and Sarah was telling us how her first day of kindergarten went and how life is like living with electricity.
The rest of the week went this way with Sarah getting on and off the bus. This was going to be our new normal.
The week was coming to an end and I was constantly thinking about those packages in the woods.
It was now Friday night and we all ate and the kids were ready for bed.
About an hour later I saw headlights coming down our driveway and I said out loud “oh crap!”
It was a black pickup truck that parked in front of our cabin.
Three guys came out with suits on. They looked like extremely hardened people with dark complexions.
I stood outside the door with the rifle inside the house close to the door.
The three men got out of the truck. One of them got out of the truck and looked me up and down.
He didn’t say a word so I introduced myself.
I said “good evening gentlemen my name is Josiah. We were given this property by the Mennonite community to live on.”
The guy in the all white casual suit said “Why are you here?”
I responded “We were shunned by our Amish community. We had nowhere else to go. I live here with my three kids and my wife. We have very little communication with anybody else besides our daughter who just started kindergarten. Next to nobody knows we are here and nobody seems to care. We have no electricity and no phones.”
The guy then put his hand on his chin like he was thinking about something. He then said “Did you see those packages in the woods?”
I responded “Yes.”
He then said “Did you touch them?”
I said “all I did was put weeds on top of them so no hunters would disturb them.”
He then said “Did you tell anyone about the packages?”
I then replied “I have no one to tell.”
He then put his hand on his chin again like he was thinking about something. My three kids came out by the front door and I told them to go back inside.
The same guy then said “Can you build a shed?”
I responded “yes I had built a house almost by myself.”
He then said “if you build the shed and continue to live your current lifestyle off the grid then I will pay you a lot of money to store my packages on your land. Does this sound like an agreement?”
I gave it a quick thought and said “Yes, of course this sounds like a great idea. By the way what’s your name?”
He then shook my hand and said “My name is Manny. I will have my people drop off building supplies tomorrow. If you do everything I tell you to do and don’t ask questions or talk to anybody about this then you will become a very rich man.”
I said “Sure Manny I’ll do whatever you say.”
Manny then said “Show me where the packages are and the four of us will carry them into your cabin. Once the shed is done, then the packages could be moved into the shed.”
I helped them move the packages into the house. He told me to keep the windows open at all times for the kids safety and I was in no way to handle the packages.
He then handed me a stack of money and said that he would be back in a week to check on the shed.
The truck pulled away and I counted the money. It was $5,000 dollars. That was pretty much all the money that I made last year.
I told Olga about the arrangement. I tried to sound positive and said this was going to be our opportunity to get out of poverty and out of our current situation which will help our kids in the long run.
It took me a while to go to sleep and eventually I did.
A large truck had dropped off a bunch of wood and other building supplies early the next morning.
I had mapped out where and how big I was going to make the shed. I was going to have Olga help me.
I knew that I had to work all day and night to get finished in a week.
There was going to be no excuses and Olga was going to help me.
I had to cut everything with hand saws that I was thankful Manny’s men had given me.
The week went by fast and I was finishing up the roof on the shed.
I had one day left before Manny and his men were coming back, so I worked through the whole night to ensure it would get done.
The only thing Manny told me was he wanted no windows and for me to install the heavy metal door.
The shed was now complete and I expected Manny the next day.
I was happy with the construction of the shed. It was strong and nearly impenetrable.
Manny came with the two other guys at about 2:00 pm. He looked over the shed and was happy with it.
We moved the packages into the shed. He gave me a cell phone to call him if anyone unexpected came.
He told me never allow anyone to mess with the shed. He then asked me for the keys to the shed which I gave him.
He gave me a bigger stack of money this time and told me he would be back in two weeks and then he left.
I counted the money and Manny gave me $25,000 dollars.
I almost fainted from joy with having a total of $30,000 dollars now.
I continued living like we were never given money.
Everyday I would clear more trees. At this point I had cleared nearly an acre of land of trees.
I was now going to focus on removing the rocks. Pennsylvania is nothing more than rocks so it took me as much time to clear the rocks as it did the trees.
I had been down to the general store to buy some odds and ends.
Gus gave me some of his granddaughter’s clothes which I greatly appreciated especially for Sarah.
Gus asked me if anyone had come on my property and I lied and told him no. He figured the No Trespassing signs must of worked.
I got some candy for the kids and then I left.
I had shot another deer. We were getting good at preparing the deer rather quickly.
Two weeks had come quickly. We anticipated Manny to come at anytime.
Day after day had come and gone and still no sign of Manny.
It’s now mid December and Manny hasn’t come back, which hasn’t changed anything regarding our daily lifestyle.
Abigail had actually stopped bye to see how things were going and she brought Christmas gifts for the kids.
She was impressed with how good the property looked and how good we all looked.
She offered to take us to the public library and to Walmart where we all went.
At the public library, Abigail showed me and Olga how to use the computer. She explained to us that we could find any answers to any of our questions on Google and then she left us for a few minutes to read books with the kids.
Olga and I decided to try to find Manny on Google.
There were a lot of search results that came up so eventually we put in “Manny, Pennsylvania, illegal drugs” and then we saw a picture of him with a news story that read “Manny Hernandez and his crew were assassinated last night outside of Reading.” We looked at other photos and saw those were the men that were with Manny.
Olga and I were shocked. We didn’t know what do with the packages in the shed. We had suspected they were illegal drugs and now we knew for sure.
We left the library and went to Walmart. We bought more non perishable food items and we let the kids pick out Christmas toys.
Abigail dropped us off and said she would be back in two months to go shopping again.
Winter time was moving by rapidly. Fortunately we had enough food supplies and an endless amount of firewood.
We had five buckets which we kept full of water in the house. We would boil the water before we drank it.
The next time Abigail was going to take us somewhere I was going to order a tub and a hand cranked water pump.
I couldn’t do much work around the cabin because of the freezing weather so I made frequent visits to Gus’s store. We were starting to become really friendly with each other.
He was an older guy who just enjoyed having company to talk to. I told him I was interested in installing a well pump. He told me it would cost around $2,000 to have someone come out to dig the well with machinery.
I told Gus that the dollar amount would be fine and he kind of looked at me surprised. He told me he could arrange for someone to come when we had a warm spell so the ground wouldn’t be frozen.
It is now late February and no one had come to take the packages from the shed. Abigail took us back into town and I had purchased a tub that would be delivered to the house.
I went to see Gus about every other day. He told me that the power company was coming through and extending their lines because of a proposed housing development that was going to be built. He told me it was going to be possible for my cabin to have electricity. He told me that it would probably cost about $3,000 dollars to have the wires come to my cabin and for the cabin to be wired.
I told him I was interested and I had the money. Gus now looked really surprised.
He knew something was up with me having money. Then Gus opened up to me about his past. He said he had a CDL truck drivers license and would give the false impression that he was a legitimate long truck delivery hauler.
He told me instead he would haul illegal drugs from New Mexico and deliver them to Philadelphia. He told me that he got caught and had to serve time in prison. He told me he was fortunate because when he was caught he didn’t have the typical larger amount of drugs that he would typically transport. He told me he spent two years in prison.
I asked him if he still had connections with the drug business and he said there’s always people trying to make money and yes he could reach out to people.
At this point I figured I didn’t have to much to lose by telling Gus to come over to my property and show him the packages.
I told him to come with a crow bar and a sledgehammer to try to get into the shed.
He drove to my cabin and after two hours we got into the shed.
Gus cut open one of the packages. The packages were about six feet long and six feet wide.
He cut into one of the packages and pulled out a small tightly wrapped package about the size of a brick.
He then took a knife and made a slit in the small package and said “oh my God this is pure cocaine. Your sitting on hundreds of millions of dollars worth of cocaine.”
He almost toppled over. He said that at even at his peak with transporting drugs he never came across anything close to this amount of cocaine.
Gus said he would help me as long as he was given half of all profits which I quickly agreed.
Gus told me we couldn’t tell anyone how much we had or we would be dead.
He told me he knew a high end drug buyer in Philadelphia who owned a chain of restaurants, but really made his money through buying and selling cocaine. Gus said we would sell it cheaper than usual just to get rid of it.
Gus said that he would give the impression that he was driving down south to get the drugs to help conceal that the drugs were located on my property.
He told me that he would make at least 10 trips to Philadelphia and as long as my buyer was getting cheap drugs delivered to him from down south he wouldn’t harm me because he wouldn't want the supply to end, but he would kill us in a heart beat if he found out we had all the drugs stashed here.
So Gus divided the drugs into 10 separate piles.
He told me he was going to drive to Philadelphia and make the arrangements with his contacts.
Gus left and we shook hands he then said “your going to have more money than your going to know what to do with it.”
Gus came back in two days and I helped him load a van he rented with cocaine.
He left and returned eight hours later. He handed me a large duffle bag of cash and said “there’s five million dollars in there,” then he hugged me.
He told me that tomorrow we would go to the bank and I should open a safety deposit box and put my money in there and he told me we should go to multiple banks and do the same thing with every cocaine delivery.
This process happened every week for two months.
Olga and the kids had no idea how much our lives had changed for generations to come.
I now had fifty million dollars stored in 10 different banks safety deposit boxes.
Gus told me he was moving to Florida and he told me I should move off the property.
He gave me a contact with an accountant who was also a lawyer who dealt with people in my situation. This person was expensive to work with but was worth the money.
Gus took me to the store to buy my own cell phone and he took the cell phone Manny gave me to discard. I bought a bunch of charge sticks so I would have power for the phones.
He gave the phone number of the accountant / lawyer. I arranged for a meeting with him. His name was Sol Robinowitz.
Sol told me that as long as I was his lawyer than our conversations were considered protected information, but I was never to tell him how I came across my money.
Sol suggested that I buy business with cash and any money that is made to deposit into a bank account.
I told him I wanted to open businesses in the town where I was from. He gave me different suggestions like rock quarry’s and factories. He told me he had connections with government officials to buy permits.
Me and my family moved back to town in Berks county that I was shunned from.
I had the land in the area surveyed to see where there was an ample amount of rocks to open a stone quarry.
I found a perfect location that was walking distance in between my parents and Olga’s parents houses.
I paid five million dollars to buy out the current owners land which was well above market price.
I paid two hundred thousand to pay off the local officials for permits and six million dollars for an expert in the field of rock quarrying along with the necessity equipment.
In six months I must of had 20 trucks that had my name on them “Josiah Yoder.”
I even expanded into the concrete business and put my name on all of the concrete trucks.
After five years I had a minimum of 100 trucks on the local roads daily.
I was only bringing in five thousand dollars a month which no other businessman would venture into considering the millions of dollars that I spent.
But seeing my trucks with my name on them roar bye the Amish buggies was well worth the money I spent.
I stopped the Amish community to a halt. They no longer felt safe going on the roads with the trucks whizzing bye.
Any complaints that were made to local officials I paid Sol to make them go away.
The church elders demanded a meeting with me. They came to my office and I sat behind my desk. I reclined back in my chair and gave them every impression that I didn’t care about one word that came out of their mouths.
When they were finished I said in German “Du hast den Wolf vor den Schafen geschützt und nicht die Schafe vor dem Wolf. Verlasse jetzt mein Büro.”
Translated to mean “You protected the wolf from the sheep and not the sheep from the wolf. Get out of my office now.”
To this day I don’t have a drivers license and my house doesn’t have electricity. I employ 200 non Amish workers and pay them good salaries.
submitted by mtp6921 to HalloweenStories

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Book Review: The WEIRDEST People in the World

Why are some countries rich and others poor? Does it depend on whether you, and your friends, and your grandparents (and their grandparents) married your cousins?
That explanation sounds intuitively incomplete, but Joseph Henrich builds a mountain around it in The Weirdest People in the World. He convincingly argues that Western European (plus North American, or shortened to WEIRD) people have a very different psychological makeup compared to other humans -- both other humans now, and other humans historically -- and those differences help explain the West’s “success”. His more provocative claim is the differences are most explained when, about 1,500 years ago, the Roman Catholic Church banned cousin marriage as part of a larger overhaul of family life.
I.
Did you know Westerns are WEIRD compared to others? Henrich frames his initial beef as one with the misapplication of academic psychology research. Unique human psychology findings from a Western university lab experiment don’t necessarily apply to people born outside of the Western world, and certainly don’t necessarily reflect innate human nature. Consider:
  1. WEIRD (Western Educated Industrialized Rich and Democratic societies) are less likely, in lab experiments, to conform to a group (the Asch Conformity Experiment). Japanese subjects are about 1.6x more likely to conform (than WEIRD ones), Brazilian subjects about 1.7x more likely, and Zimbabweans about 3x more likely.
  2. WEIRD subjects are relatively more patient, measured by willingness to wait for money (think an adult version of the “marshmallow test”). A Swede will forgo $100 now to receive $144 in a year. But globally, the average person requires $189 in a year to give up $100 now, and the far-end of the spectrum (Rwanda) requires $212. (According to Henrich, the figures were adjusted for local currency and purchasing power.)
  3. WEIRD subjects are less likely to lie in dice rolling experiments when lying is anonymous and also gets you more money. (The lying can be measured by an aggregate statistical analysis, i.e., whether higher numbered die were over-reported relative to baseline aggregate probability.)
  4. In a hypothetical prompt, 80-100% of WEIRD subjects believe that their friend has no right to expect them to falsely testify in a trial so that the friend avoids legal punishment. That’s about double the rate of India/China subjects, who are more likely to lie for their friend.
  5. WEIRD subjects are 50%-100% more “analytical” rather than “holistic” in their thinking; for example, in a “triad test”, WEIRD folks would pair a rabbit with a cat (two animals) instead of a rabbit with a carrot (rabbit eats carrot).
Compared to non-WEIRDers, WEIRD people are:
Highly individualistic, self-obsessed, control-oriented, nonconformist, and analytical. We focus on ourselves, our attributes, accomplishments, and aspirations over our relationships and social roles
Henrich’s point is that this isn’t normal; rather, we’re the abnormal (weird) ones.
Henrich emphasizes these are differences, not value judgments, and of course only measured at the population level. Is it a good thing that WEIRD culture has people, on average, more trusting of strangers and less biased towards family members? Of course that depends on your definition of “good”. And also on the current environment/context: In a strong state with a market-oriented economy and rule of law, there’s big payoff (especially collective payoff) in those traits, even if it might be unwise to trust strangers if you find yourself in a different place or different time. It’s understandable that our cultures didn’t uniformly evolve “trust stranger” norms.
II.
So WEIRD people have very different cultures and personalities than others. But why? Henrich’s answer is basically that we got lucky when the Catholic Church decided to ban cousin marriage and embark on a new, and different, family marriage program.
First, a quick example of his overall “cultural evolution” framework. In Henrich’s model, different cultures develop different cultural norms, but within a dynamic process where the culture is also competing with other cultures, resulting in cultural selection pressures (akin to survival of the fittest culture). Henrich recounts an illustrative New Guinea example:
  1. New Guinea villages had a maximum of 300 people, about 80 of which were male. When villages grew larger than that, social ruptures tended to follow -- as though there was an “invisible ceiling” on the scale of human cooperation in New Guinea.
  2. But one community, Ilahita, was an exception. Ilahita had a population of about 2,500.
  3. Anthropologist Donal Tuzin explains the exception by reference to a unique cultural package within Ilahita, largely related to institutionalizing more cross-cleavages within that population. As described, a family might belong to “subgroup A-2”, which meant it interacted with a broader community of other A’s (not all of which were also “2’s”) and interacted with a broader community of other 2’s (not all of which were also “A’s”), meaning the entire community was interconnected, but in a relatively random way. This is intuitively familiar to us moderns, who have our family group, work group, social group, sports team group, etc., in each case with only some overlap. But maybe it was less common in historical human societies. (The anthropologist and Henrich discuss other cohesion mechanisms, like adolescent rituals, that I’m giving short shrift to.)
  4. These cross-cleavages allowed Ilahita to scale to a higher population than other villages that were organized exclusively (or more-so) on family/clan grounds.
  5. Why did Ilahita have these successful customs, such as cross-cleavages, but other villages didn’t? Apparently around 1870 the Ilahita leaders learned and copied some rituals from another successful group (the Abelam), but made errors doing so. Those copying errors turned out to work even better than the original customs, and thus proliferated. An accidental muttation, but one that happened to be useful.
III.
So human history includes culture competition and cultural evolution. Still, as best as we can tell, most of human history was dominated by a “kinship” and clan-based approach to organizing society. Things like who you are, what you do, and who you marry all had a lot to do with your family background and the small community you were born into.
Here are some traits of the familial (or kinship) approach to culture:
  1. Newly married couples set up residence near one person’s (usually groom’s) parents.
  2. Inheritance of property after death is totally familial, usually via your father. (Admittedly inheritance is still mostly familial, but that’s at least an option in modern society.)
  3. “Corporate” (or collectivist) notions of responsibility for each family and clan. “If someone kills someone from your clan (even accidentally) - their entire clan is responsible for paying blood money.” If they don’t, your entire clan is responsible for a revenge killing.
  4. Marriages: Often there are taboos against marrying a sibling. But then norms in favor of marrying a relative like a cousin (or second cousin). Henrich also flags the widespread popularity of “levirate marriage”; if a husband dies, then the wife has to marry one of his brothers or cousin-brothers, in order to maintain the familial link established by the original marriage.
None of the above is in any way universal, tribes everywhere differ, etc., but I take it as a rough picture of relatively common pre-modern practices. Some of these practices are still common today in non-Western places. Pre-Catholic takeover, European tribes mostly reflected the above: Kinship-based units collectively owned territories, provided social identities, adjudicated disputes, provided protection and health care, and arranged marriages. High-status European men married multiple wives.
How about now? 75% of global historical societies studied by anthropologists exhibit marriage to cousins or other relatives, yet WEIRD societies don’t do that. 72% trace lineage through only one parent, while WEIRD societies trace lineage through both parents. WEIRD societies are part of the only 8% of all studied societies with nuclear families, and part of only 5% where newly married couples set up a separate household. Circa year 2020, you can move to NYC for a job and then mate up, and then do whatever you want next (move to the suburbs, move closer to your parents, move closer to her parents, move to California). It’s easy to appreciate how this family freedom is probably historically unique, but is it historically meaningful?
IV.
According to Henrich, it was indeed Christian religious peculiarities, which ultimately impacted family formation, that explain how we got from the traditional kinship culture to our modern Western culture. The first key development was universalizing religions, which include Christianity, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Islam. These universalizing religions had, in certain settings and certain respects, advantages over the previously more common local god approach. They started the path of universal rules or principles that apply to everyone equally. They also tend to believe in contingent afterlives and free will, other factors that prepared the Western world for its cultural evolution.
Really, though, it was the Roman Catholic’s family and marriage program that changed the game.
Henrich’s chart of the Catholic marriage program starts in year 305 when Synod of Elvira forbid men from marrying either (i) a sister of their dead wife or (ii) their daughters-in-law. I don’t know who Synod of Elvira is, or whether he was particularly important, or if such sister-of-dead-wife / daughter-in-law marriages were so frequerent so as to be historically significant. The point is the trend. By year 500-600, first cousin marriage was officially outlawed by Roman Catholic popes and authorities; the Eastern Church, which lagged in both time and intensity of kinship reform, made that official in year 692. The marriage restrictions gradually expanded. By about year 1050, the ban reaches sixth cousins or “marriage with kin as far back as memory goes”. (Aside: In 1983, John Paul II loosened incest restrictions and allowed second cousins and more distant relatives to marry.)
The family and cousin marriage prohibitions forced folks to search further and wider for potential mates:
By roughly 1000 CE, manorial censuses confirm that peasant farming families [in France] lived in small, monogamous nuclear households and had two to four children. Young couples often formed independent neo-local householes, sometimes moving to new manors.
By the late Middle ages, Europeans had later marriage ages (mid-20s), a relatively large percent of unmarried women, smaller families and lower fertility, and frequently worked during a premarital labor period. Henrich contrasts that cultural European landscape to the cultural patterns seen, for example, in China around that time, which still reflected the traditional kinship cultural practices.
V.
Large societal (and, later, psychological) consequences followed the disruption (really deterioration) of Europe’s family culture. Simply put, people intermingled more, and family bonds weakened. Henrich amasses chart after chart to show that we can see current data of strong correlations between personality traits and background family structures. Countries with more cousin marriage and more familial kinship cultures (i.e., non-WEIRD places) are less individualistic, more conformist, more shame-ridden (but fewer feelings of guilty), less trusting of strangers, contribute less in (stranger) group projects, voluntarily donate less blood, etc. (this list could go on for pages).
Henrich also assembles statistical evidence showing a dose-response effect: The longer a population or region was exposed to the Western Church’s marriage family program, “the weaker its families and WEIRDer psychological patterns are today.
Of course the number of correlations don’t prove Henrich’s theory of causation; it’s possible that European societies had a different secret sauce that propelled them along their path, and that secret sauce (directly or indirectly) causes our modern psychology differences. But his theory is facially plausible. Europeans may have stumbled across a religious mechanism that started weakening familial bonds, gradually at first, but slowly increasing (and resulting in) non-familial bonds, relationships, and institutions like guilds, charter cities, monasteries, universities, and quasi-markets. None of these replacement institutions are particularly impressive or important at first. But they, alongside the unrelenting advance of the marriage program, further contribute to additional weakening of kinship-based institutions. Eventually the quasi-market institutions develop into even more institutionalized markets. The culture and norms encouraged by the new institutions are different from those encouraged by kinship institutions, such as universalizing treatment, positive sum worldviews, fairness towards strangers, and reciprocity. Collectively, they build a sort of interpersonal prosociality. The interpersonal prosociality norms made larger cooperation, and larger urban locations, more viable. These effects continue building on each other; weaker family bonds leading to stronger non-family institutions, leading to larger cities, which in turn further solidify a market approach and weaken family bonds. By about 1200, Belgium, the Netherlands, and Italy started urbanizing; England urbanized later (starting in year 1500), with an overall European urbanization quadrupling (3 percent to 13 percent) from year 800 to 1600. If the industrial revolution represents a fundamental change in the human condition, for Henrich, humanity needed something (anything?) to jump us off the familial relationship track and get us onto the prosocial one. The Catholic church and its family marriage program just happened to be the ticket.
VI.
Henrich points to the WEIRD “clock-time mindset” as one example of the importance of cultural evolution on our psychological differences. WEIRD folks are obsessed with concepts like hourly work efficiency, being “on time”, and not “wasting time.” Henrich argues this is a relatively new psychological development that did not exist before the High Middle Ages. Another fascinating example is the Western legal tradition of investigating “universal legal principes, categories, or axioms from which all specific [laws] could be derived.” According to Henrich, this search for universal legal principles came from an application of WEIRD personality when re-reading Roman case law. It was another mis-copying of sorts, since universal principles did not exist in the Roman legal sources, but Europeans, indoctrinated by hundreds of years of prosociality and universalizing, assumed they must exist.
In Henrich’s telling, Martin Luther’s protestant reformation is perhaps the final booster shot that Europe needed, explaining why Europe (and not others) got modernity, the Enlightenment, the Industrial Revolution, representative government. By this point of the story, things are very cyclical: Europe was simultaneously predisposed to accept something like Protestantism when it came along, and Protestantism further pushed Europe along its developmental path. Relative to Catholicism, Protestantism further individualized our culture and psychology by emphasizing things like reading, self-education, intentions, hard work, and self-discipline. Literacy rates subsequently grew faster in Protestant European countries (such as Britain, Sweden, and the Netherlands) than Catholic European countries (Spain and Italy). If Europe was WEIRD, Protestant Europe became WEIRDer: More individualistic, more rational, less familial, and, later, more Educated, Richer, and Democratic (wEiRD)
By instilling thrift, patience, and an internalized work ethic while at the same time requiring literacy and encouraging schooling, Protestantism had psychologically prepared the rural [European] populace to participate in and fuel the Industrial Revolution. Evidence from the 19th century...shows that compared to Catholicism, early Protestantism fostered higher literacy rates, greater incomes, and more engagement in manufacturing and service industries. Politically, Protestantism probably encouraged the formation of democratic and representative governments.
VII.
According to Henrich, Jared Diamond’s Guns, Germs and Steel explain a lot of dispersion amongst societies and global-level inequality up to about year 1000. But afterwards...
If a team of alien anthropologists had surveyed humanity from orbit in 1000 CE, or even 1200 CE, they would never have guessed that European populations would dominate the globe during the second half of the millennium. Instead, they probably would have bet on China or the Islamic world. What these aliens would have missed...was the quiet formation of a new psychology.
Does Catholicism, family marriage policy, protestantism, and the resulting cultural psychology changes explain Europe’s post-1200 trajectory? Does our propensity to marry our cousin (and that of our great-great-great-etc. grandparents) represent a fundamental break in our history? Henrich’s account seems facially plausible, even if it needs further testing and scrutiny from sociologists, anthropologists, statisticians, and historians. And even if this particular theory is shown invalid, it may still endure by drawing attention to “cultural evolution” and the interplay between cultural institutions and underlying human psychology. Did the European cultural “advances” make Westerners lonelier and sadder while simultaneously richer? Did the human experiment ultimately benefit from the change, or will {nuclear annihilation, global climate change, or AI singularity} ultimately show the folly of breaking down kinship bonds? Henrich doesn’t go there. But such is our luck, good and bad, to be born into the WEIRD lineage. We may eventually realize our psychological approach to the world, just like our physical bodies themselves, resulted from the combination of luck, mutation, and incremental change that underpins most evolved outcomes.
***
Endnotes:
  1. I should add a global cautionary note that Henrich is often more measured in his conclusions than my summary indicates. For the most part, this isn’t because I disagree with Henrich, but rather want this idea to be easily digested without bogging this summary down with endless qualifications. But also to say that if your primary objection to something is “this seems to be overstating the case”, that’s probably an objection against my summary more than Henrich’s work.
  2. Henrich devotes some pages to discussing polgyamy, arguing that it was probably the natural state of human sexuality and monogamy is deviant. There is already a blog post that Henrich “Gets polygyny wrong.” Although I’m by no means an expert, my understanding of the issue (the prevalence of polygyny v. monogamy in early civilization and pre-civilization) is also softer than Henrich’s, primarily influenced by Sapolsky’s Behave and Geoffrey Miller’s The Mating Mind. https://traditionsofconflict.com/blog/2020/9/8/the-weirdest-people-in-the-world-gets-polygyny-wrong
  3. Why did the Catholic Church care about this kinship marriage stuff, and other religions didn’t? Henrich has some pages on this, although he also seems to treat it as a stochastic event (remember the bit earlier about cultural mutations for the New Guinea tribes). I don't think explaining the origin is actually all that important or central to his argument.
Edit #1: There is discussion below, and in another post on the reddit, regarding Charles Freeman's review of the book, see two links that follow. My initial comment (basically uncertainty) is also below in this thread. Links: https://www.gnxp.com/WordPress/2020/10/24/against-the-weird/ and https://www.amazon.com/gp/customer-reviews/R28QL9PWWETSD6/ref=cm_cr_arp_d_rvw_ttl?ie=UTF8&ASIN=B07RZFCPMD
Edit #2: I've done my best to respond to the amazon review, in three parts, below in this thread, but would be curious for reactions from other readers / experts.
submitted by MaxRMathias to slatestarcodex