“You don’t change a country culture from the outside” – Lawrence Harrison
“Why do diplomats at the UN from countries like Quawait, Egypt, Tchad, Sudan, Mocambique, Pakistan, Ethiopia, and Syria collect hundreds of parking tickets in New York every year? And why do Swedish, Danish, Japanese, Israelian, Norwegian or Canadian diplomats never have parking tickets?” David Brooks wrote this in The New York Times, some time back.
He linked this behavior to corruption and the country’s position on the “Transparency International”. Is it culture?
Lawrence Harrison worked for many years as a development aid worker. He researched the degree of influence culture has on human behavior. He worked as Adjunct Lecturer at the Fletcher School of Tufts University.
We operate in the same research area, therefore we were interested in his new book “The Central Liberal Truth”. In this book, he concludes that cultural differences are the main denominators causing certain countries to develop themselves faster than others.
We agree with his statements, and have additional remarks on his research:
Nowadays the following has crucial political importance: can we deliberately change cultures in order that enable development and modernization? Indirectly he points to the war on terrorism and changing the culture in the Middle East and that of the millions of Muslim immigrants in Europe?
After working together with other scientists in his research in many countries he concluded: it is not possible to change a culture from the outside, except in certain exceptional circumstances. It can only be done through the work of people from within the culture.
It struck Harrison that before such transformations can start, they have lasted centuries more than decades, huge investments are made in education, especially in the reading and writing of women.
Are there any particular country culture configurations that can predict a strong economical development? Most poor countries, where 70 to 80% of the population lives below the poverty line, have centralized power structures and are collectivistic societies. In such societies, economical and educational aid from outside will mostly be beneficial to the few (families) that hold the central power.
The richest countries, including the ones that score high on GDP (per capita), are individualistic societies and a vast majority has no centralized power.
So, we can state that:
– Societies can become more individualistic when economical development, by educational development according to Harrison, is positive and accessible to everyone.
– And when societies are more individualistic and have equal rights, economical development will accelerate.
But how do you create individualistic and equal rights societies? According to Harrison that can only be done from inside the own culture, by people who acknowledge (and emotionally understand) the problems, and can take charge of transformation through reinterpretations of the country’s symbols, role models, rituals, traditions, shared norms and values.
It will take a long time (e.g. centuries) to change. Is there anything that can be done from outside the culture that will accelerate the transformation to an individualistic and equal rights society? Maybe large numbers of immigrants blend with the actual society? Maybe coupes d’etats through people with the right cultural profile? Direct development aid (economical and educational) to the poorest under the direct control of the aid without imposing the ways of working of the aid suppliers?
We don’t know yet. We are curious what you think!
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Peter has joined forces with Culture Matters.
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- 168 Heather Hansen and the link between language and culture - 23 January 2023
- 167 Allen Morrison on China - 19 December 2022
- 166 Douglas Herbert. France24 international commentator - 17 October 2022