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He joined Tyler for a conversation on his work on cultural evolution, as well as his life among different tribes (academic and otherwise), Star Trek, big gods, small gods, China’s missing industrial revolution, the merits of coconut milk, the Flynn effect, American exceptionalism, and why he wants to travel in time to 6th-century Kent. Is there any advice you would give for dealing with online bullies who seem to be gaining a lot of power and audience? We did research on how different forms of status affect leadership. We worked with sports teams and we also created groups in the laboratory. If you have multiple husbands and they’re all having sex with the wife, then the degree to which they see themselves as the father will get smaller. It’s only in certain ecological contexts where you really need two or more males to run the households that you see this pop up.Listen to the full conversation I noticed you don’t tweet at lot, but some very interesting things are in your feed, including an article by Jessica Tracy that you tweeted a month and a half ago about how people don’t like bullies but society tends to give bullies power. What we found, both in the field and in the laboratory, is that individuals who were given prestige, so who people thought were particularly skilled or particularly knowledgeable in a certain area, had influence and were likely to become leaders in groups. She doesn’t get any more investment in the children by having multiple husbands. And the men are usually brothers, which helps reduce the conflict of interest over paternity. AUDIENCE MEMBER: You talked a little bit about — well, you talked a lot about — the role of gods in society.HENRICH: It’s unclear because if you have multiple languages, you can potentially learn from people.The extra languages can actually expand the size of the collective brain. AUDIENCE MEMBER: To the extent that you think that human beings are hardwired to be tribalistic, do you think that the modern world’s cultures are strong and good enough to overcome the effects of violence and tribalism and its negative effects?We also found that individuals who were pushy, aggressive, and sometimes agonistic could also find their way into leadership roles in groups. You mentioned how having one big god creates a bigger society while other smaller gods, I think you said, galvanizes cooperation in local communities. AUDIENCE MEMBER: My gut reaction would be, “Oh, you’re thinking we’re all children of God.” Whereas if I am paying tribute to the god of my city, I’m more kin to the people in my city.That was the basis of Jess’s — I guess it was an op-ed in . How does that cultural evolution from these small gods to the bigger god shape understandings of human dignity? Somebody else living elsewhere, they’re completely different from me. HENRICH: Some historians — this relates to some of my thinking and research and reading about European history — have made the case that the kind of human universalism that we see emerging in Europe, notions of human rights and stuff, come in part from this notion that we’re all children of the same God rather than each of our tribes or each of our clans having its own independent gods.
HENRICH: I tend to think of disciplines as — they’re really cultures, right? They’re being taught what counts as evidence, what’s a good project, what’s a good paper, how do you do a presentation. Anthropologists read their papers, so they stand up in the front and just read it. But in the case of economics, I think it’s strongly influenced by the need to run everything through individual choice models. I have a lot of friends who — they have an interesting empirical result. HENRICH: You’re thinking that when males don’t achieve very much prestige, how that affects them? There’s a lot of copying and mimicry amongst people who are prestigious . In order to increase their status, they have to take big risks.The reason I’m so interested in that ratio is as a career coach, all my clients are the maestros. Cowens, and they’re all in careers that their tribe picked for them. My question is, What’s the role of the maverick today? If you’re a cultural learner and you learn a little bit from this guy and a little bit from this guy and a little bit from that guy and recombine them, you get a brand-new thing. You actually were just cultural-learning from three different people.Knowing people in very different domains of knowledge that normally don’t meet is a great way to be an innovator.We talked about this idea that these things break down over time because it’s hard to maintain a large country sufficiently culturally similar that you don’t end up with different tribes.I think we’re going to see what we’ve always seen, which is things break down. Then they re-form, and they spread, and they break down, and they re-form and they spread. AUDIENCE MEMBER: I’m really curious about your thoughts on the maverick versus the cultural learner and what you think today the role of the maverick is.