Working Class Futures

Two years ago I posted on an article saying most psych data comes from a weird source, US college students:

Americans are, on average, the most individualistic people in the world. … American parents, for example, were the only ones in a survey of 100 societies who created a separate room for their baby to sleep. … Compared with other Western industrialized societies, Americans were found to be the most patriotic, litigious, philanthropic, and populist. They were also among the most optimistic, and the least class-conscious.

The article authors expect US college attitudes to spread to be the usual ones worldwide, because they are just better:

Our evolved tendencies to imitate successful and prestigious individuals will favor the spread of child-rearing traits that speed up and enhance the development of those particular cognitive and social skills that eventually translate into social and economic success.

Unsurprisingly, US non-college-grads are culturally more like the rest of the world. They more value conforming to norms and to others, and less value choice, control, and being different. (Many quotes below.)

Many futurists seem to also expect US college values to dominate the future. They imagine wealthy future folk as super-individualists — gaining even more “transhumanist” options to expand or change themselves, diverging according to differing personal inclinations, and often violating familiar norms in the process. My guess, however, is that increasing individualism results from a mix of increasing per-person wealth giving more personal options and less need for strong social ties, and the world copying the random weirdness of the most successful nation.

Thus when US success is eclipsed by other nations, and when per-person wealth again declines, both of which seem very likely in the long run, I expect more-farmer-like future folk to be much less individualistic than today’s US college grads. If as a US person you have trouble imagining them as like foreigners, since you don’t know foreigners well, then imagine them with traditional US working class values. Don’t so much imagine the low religion, marriage, and work effort typical of today’s US working class; instead imagine their grandparents.

Yes future folk may change in many ways compared to humans today, but less because of differing personal inclinations, and more to increase productivity and to be compatible and cooperative with associates.

Those promised quotes on US working class culture:

People in WK [working class] relative to MD [middle class] contexts tend to have fewer resources and choices and face greater risks and higher mortality rates. They also tend to spend more time interacting with family and participating in hands-on caregiving. … [They] are likely to be “tightly inserted in densely structured … social networks”. Adaptive behavior in contexts characterized by these material and social conditions often requires acts of interdependence—such as attention to, reliance on, and adjustment to others. For example, parents in WK contexts are relatively more likely to stress to their children that “It’s not just about you” and to emphasize that although it is important to be strong and to stand up for one’s self, it is also essential to be aware of the needs of others and to adhere to socially accepted rules and standards for behavior.

Considering the confluence of relatively fewer resources and opportunities for choice, more sustained contact with family, and a greater focus on others, we theorize that fitting in with and being similar to others will be relatively normative— common, and preferred—in WK contexts. … We found that people from WK backgrounds are relatively more likely to make and prefer choices that produce similarity to others and that people from MD backgrounds are relatively more likely to make and prefer choices that produce difference from others. … We found that magazine ads targeting consumers in WK and MD contexts reflected the hypothesized models of agency. (more)

Whereas college-educated (BA) participants and their preferred cultural products (i.e., rock music lyrics) emphasized expressing uniqueness, controlling environments, and influencing others, less educated (HS) participants and their preferred cultural products (i.e., country music lyrics) emphasized maintaining integrity, adjusting selves, and resisting influence. Reflecting these models of agency, HS and BA participants differently responded to choice in dissonance and reactance paradigms: BA participants liked chosen objects more than unchosen objects, but choice did not affect HS participants’ preferences. (more)

Together these studies revealed that representing the university culture in terms of independence (i.e., paving one’s own paths) rendered academic tasks difficult and, thereby, undermined first-generation [college] students’ performance. Conversely, representing the university culture in terms of interdependence (i.e., being part of a community) reduced this sense of difficulty and eliminated the performance gap without adverse consequences for continuing-generation students. (more)

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