"Can We Change Social Norms?" Why? Radio Episode with Guest Cristina Bicchieri
2:11AM May 9, 2020
Jack Russell Weinstein
Disclaimer: This transcript has been autogenerated and may contain errors, do not cite without verifying accuracy. To do so, click on the first word of the section you wish to cite and listen to the audio while reading the text. If you find errors, please email us at email@example.com. Please include the episode name and time stamp where the error is found. Thank you.
Why philosophical discussions about everyday life is produced by the Institute for philosophy and public life, a division of the University of North Dakota's College of Arts and Sciences. Visit us online at why Radio show.org.
Hi, I'm Jack Russell Weinstein host of wide philosophical discussions about everyday life. On today's episode, we will be asking Christina Buckcherry whether it is possible to change social norms. There's an unwritten rule in North Dakota. The person who yells first in an argument loses doesn't matter who is right or who is wrong, or even how serious the complaint is. If you raise your voice, you're the bad guy. took me a long time to learn this. And I can think of a few people who clearly hate me because they did something crappy and I shouted in anger. It wasn't like this where I grew up. In New York City. People yell all the time. They yell at family at friends at strangers. All yell back. And most of the time everyone involved takes a few minutes to get over it, and then everything's fine. Again, I'm not saying this is the healthiest way of dealing with one another, but it does provide a useful purpose. It's a way of expressing pent up emotions, and channeling hostility away from physical violence. In a city with 8.6 million people. disarming anger is a very, very good thing. The permission to be loud is as much a manifestation of culture as it is geography. The largest waves of immigration to New York have been from emotionally expressive traditions, Italian and Irish Catholics, Jews, folks from the Caribbean islands and Russians. These are all ethnicities that were their emotions on their sleeves. In contrast, the Scandinavians that settled in North Dakota are a famously stoic people who are often very hard to read. There's an old joke that I'm sure I've told you on the show before. Did you hear about the Norwegian parents To love their son so much, they almost told him. If Ingmar Bergman had ever been exposed to a telenovela, I think his head would have exploded from a lifetime of repression. Obviously, I'm dealing with generalizations here. There are quiet New Yorkers just as there are boisterous North Dakotans. But what's important is that we can both identify what socially normal means and articulate expectations at the same time. Culture is both descriptive and prescriptive. We can often predict how groups will act and anticipate the negative consequences for those who rebel. The longer I live in North Dakota, the more I'm able to get a sense of what the rules are, and the easier it is to get along with the locals. But that too, has involved a lot of trial and error. People around here don't tell you how to act. They just grow cold when they disapprove. We all have to figure out what we've done wrong on our own. We have to infer how we've transgressed These observations throw the American narrative on its head. We'd like to talk about individual freedom and the choices people have to act and be who they want. But this is perversely simplistic. social norms are collective, not a product of atomistic personal preferences. Sure any of us are free to yell at whomever we want. But if we do, we have to live with the consequences. We are all subject in some sense to what john Stuart Mill calls the tyranny of the majority. Collective social power is amorphous and fluid, but it's also powerfully effective, it can be resisted, it can't necessarily be controlled. On this episode of why we're going to look at social norms, asked how they are formed, identified and how they're changed, from preventing child marriage to challenging bigotry with every reason to want to push past established behaviors that undermine our moral convictions. But doing that also involves understanding why these behaviors exist. In other words, we aren't just concerned with action We have to consider justifications and expectations as well. And so I returned to the yelling, moving from New York to North Dakota changed me in many ways. I most certainly do shouted others less than I used to. I'm also more patient even more passive. At the same time, I'm also angrier in some important ways and feel more invisible, isolated and disregarded. There are times when the stillness of North Dakota feels more like being backed into a corner than it does the peaceful welcoming that mean Dakota nice is supposed to be. By the way, this isn't just me. I know quite a few North Dakotans who move to New York, they're more aggressive than they were and more assertive, some of them would have a hard time coming back most of them don't want to is the New York way of being better than the North Dakotan? Probably not. is one more appropriate to its respective context than the other, almost certainly. So we're left with the philosophical question that lies at the core of it all. If all we're doing is trying to fit in, how do we change these practices? That outlived their usefulness, if norms mold the individual, is it possible for the individual to mold the norm? To put all this another way? Can we change culture by force of will? If we can? Is that too much power for one person to have? If we can't, can we claim to be free at all?
And now our guest Christina Buckcherry is the Sarah Jane Patterson Harvie professor of social thought and comparative ethics at the University of Pennsylvania, and director of the philosophy politics and economics program. She's the author of several books including most recently norms in the wild, Christina, welcome to y.
If you'd like to comment on the show, you can find us on twitter instagram and facebook all at at y radio show one word or email us at ask white umd.edu you can listen to all of our previous episodes for free and find information about our future shows at why Radio show.org so Christina Just the other day I saw a cartoon on the internet with two women talking. The first one says to the other, ugh, why can't you be normal? And the other one retorts? Well, why can't you be interesting? Is that what we're going to talk about today? When we asked about changing norms, are we talking about the pressure to fit in
or sell it among other things, in your previous description of norms, you highlight some very important issues about norms. First of all, social norms are typically implicit rules are not written down like legal rules are not people are not describing them to us unless we are children. And our parents tell us you should behave this way or, or this other way. So these are implicit rules. So when you go to North Dakota to keep with your example, you know at the beginning, you don't realize Immediately, and nobody's going to tell you that the expectation because rules are basically also, you know, sets of expectations that, you know, people expect you to behave in a certain way. And on the other hand, once you know the rule, you expect other people, you know, to follow, they're older, and in a social norm context, that this is not just an expectation of behavior, but there is also a judgement about, well, if you don't behave that way, you know, that is a negative judgment attached to that. And so you go to North Dakota to stay with your example. And you start yelling, you know, people may be maybe at the beginning lies with you because they say, Oh, he comes from New York, of course, you know, he doesn't know how to behave. But if you continue behaving that way, you know, they won't be that charitable to you and probably will die. Eddie neck negative way. And basically, you know, by making mistake by trial, you will learn what the role is that and that you will conform. Why will you conform that because if you don't again know this is typical of a social norm, there will be some negative judgment accompanied to accompany your behavior. So you don't want to be judged negatively. You don't want to suffer, you know, negative sanction, bad consequences. And so you will conform and try not to yell at people when you are in an argument, right this,
this, this strikes me as one of the oldest questions in philosophy when when Plato was writing Socrates in the apology 2500 years ago, Socrates starts off by saying, I don't know how to talk in a court of law. If I was a foreigner, you'd give me a lot of latitude. you'd let me make mistakes, but because I'm not because you think I'm like you, you're gonna hold me more accountable for things and expect me to do things I don't know how to do is Yes. Is there more judgment on people who we find closer to us? Right? Because right now in American politics, we're being very critical of the foreigner of the immigrant of the refugee. But what you seem to be suggesting is that in terms of these implicit judgments, it's the people who are the closest to us that are going to receive the harshest judgments.
Yes, that is, uh, you know, we gave a certain Slack, if you will, to people that we know, you know, are not in line with our culture, they are foreigners, you know, this is not forever slack. But you know, the beginning that you can be sort of nicer because you think, well, they are not part of our culture they don't understand and so on and so forth. But this is one thing. So we are harsher, if you will, with people that belong to our network that are part of our group, because they should know their will, sir, and they should obey the rules. That is a strong expectation there. But the interesting thing, what's happening now? I mean, I come from Europa. And you know, of course, I am also an American citizen, I live in the US. And I see this happening here with the Latin American Immigration and in Europe with the immigration from Africa. There is a we versus them you know, sense. So, there is an in group, what we call in group out group problem. And that is, if you're not part of my group, will I trust you less. I look at you With some suspicion and what I implicitly require you to do if you come to live in my country, this is what's happening all over Europe actually is when you have to adopt our ways very quickly. So, there is a lot of backlash for example, against Muslims and their ways, because you know, of course, there is the issue of terrorism etc. But it is a deeper thing, I think. And the deeper thing is that you are different, hey, you have to homologate you have to behave like us, if you want, you know, to benefit from you know, being admitted being allowed to live with us. So is in a sense at the beginning, there may be some slack, but then soon enough, the idea is that now you behave like us because you are my guest. In my house, etc, and there is a lot of animosity, which, you know, emerges from things attitude is very important is
is this a little unfair? And what I mean by this is, there seems to be an expectation that outsiders learn the norms very quickly. But one of the lessons we get from your book and from looking at at how complicated this is, and from my own experience in North Dakota, in the monologue, is these are hard things to learn. So, is there is there a appropriate time period to wait, is there a Do we have to be patient or is the expectation that these transformations happen quickly, perfectly reasonable?
Is not that reasonable expectation I completely agree with you. And where while it is easier for kids or young people is much more difficult for older people that, you know, have lived in a particular way for decades. So it takes time. And it takes time and mostly is, you know, the hope is the younger generation will integrate much more easily than the older ones. And yes, I think is unfair to expect a sudden rapid change because even the young generation, they have to come to our schools. They have to be educated in our ways. So it's and often these creates conflict between the young and the older generation of immigrants. We have seen that with several hundred killings. Where you know, I'm very aware of some that happened in Italy, where the young girl wanted went to school in Italy, and one To live like an Italian girl, and the father, he is reference network was the village in Pakistan. And so the fact that you wanted to live, you know, out of wedlock with an Italian boy was a FEMA. And in the end after learning her many times, they decided to kill her. So, you know, there are certain norms, if you will certain rules that are quite negative, but I give this example not to say that they're all some negative or not, which of course, they are very negative, oh, no killing, but to tell you that the young generation are those that integrate, they want to change, they want to be part of these different new culture and the old generation have a really hard time, you know, to abandon especially with norms. So one thing that I want to stress with norms norms, require a reference network. So norms are not just related to individuals, but to groups. And the Pakistani man who was at, you know, a factory worker in Milan, for 25 years, his reference network was the Pakistan village. And what happened there and how people were judging his family there. So when we think of norms, I want to stress this, we have to think of a reference network. So going back to your question of fairness and our first that was lowly, you know, people change. I think older people still have a reference network, which is not part of the country where they emigrate, whereas young people form a new reference networks much, much easier. And so I think we've come there mostly
So this phrase reference network, it refers not just to your immediate friends and family, but the people who you look to, to sort of determine what the norms are to for evaluation. And so it can be the people who you live immediately with, but it can also be the people who you identify with in another country. 3000 salutely.
And we see this over and over and over again. For example, another good example since you're interested there in Minnesota, in itself that there is a big Somali community, yes. Okay. And what happens there is that they often send their daughters back to Somalia to get cut. Okay, and who's the reference network is, you know, the families, the relatives, the friends in Somalia, not in it. in Minneapolis,
I'm sorry to interrupt just for a second. But cut you mean, the removal of the clitoral?
Yeah, gentlemen, genic cocktail. Yes, typically I don't like to use the word mutilation. And that UNICEF actually has rejected the word mutilation out of a sort of respect, if you will, for these cultural practices. But certainly cutting is very appropriate. And you know, that is cutting and cutting. But what I want to quote here is the fact speaking of reference networks, that people, Somali people who live in Minnesota send their daughter back to Somalia to be caught. So that reference network is there, not in Minnesota.
So the work that you do, you have to walk a line both as a philosopher who has moral opinions but also an anthropologist Who in order to understand the norms? You want to take away that that moral judgment, not that you don't have it personally, but that understanding how norms work requires a sort of anthropological distance.
I agree. I completely agree. Of course, I have my personal opinions, right about, you know, right and wrong. And but I try always to understand why people behave one way or another. This is important thing. When international organizations, you know, aim, you know, want to eliminate certain behavior because I think these are dangerous, etc. Or inhuman or whatever. You know, that the issue is, we want to understand that's my main job there. What drives people to be havior in that particular way, you know, what is the reason? Why do they do that. And all my measures are geared to measure the actor and to diagnose that behavior. Because sometimes what you think is a social norm, maybe is a deep religious conviction is a very different story. And intervention would be very different. So the problem is to decide which intervention which policy to an actor, you first have to diagnose the behavior, what sort of behavior is it what drives people to behave one way or another? And this is part two, the major part of my work is exactly doing that.
So I want to ask you in another minute of whether you can change your reference network and and how that and how intervention happens, but as an example, I want to bring up the what you talked about in the book The campaign of silver Lima was it in Ethiopia. I can't remember in Ethiopia. That was Sudan and Sudan. Excuse me, then Sudan. Um, what happened was Salima in response to cutting and why was it so successful?
Well, first of all, you know, most of the people there are Muslim. And another interesting thing was that in mom's you know, were enlisted in his campaign to explain to people that there is no Kartik demand in the Quran. Okay is not an Islamic rule. This is one thing but the most important thing was to tell people look God made you know this girl body intact and catch the pure. Okay and cut It basically goes against that, okay? Salima means basically pure whole and touched in that culture, you know, the purity of girls is very important. So what they try to do is understanding the importance of purity, turning around and say, Okay, what does it mean to be pure, it means to be untouched and cut, you know, a full, untouched body and that had a bite, you know, people really like that. Okay, so it was a combination of a moms that said, No, there is no getting demanded by the Quran. So Islamic religion doesn't demand that and also the idea that religion you know, goes purity, and cutting, in some sense, breaks down these purity breaks down this integrity, it had a very, very huge effect. That's very interesting.
So so so there's a tremendously important philosophical move implicit in this. Right? If this were happening in the United States, if this discussion with the United States, people would look at at the cutting and say, Well, first of all, sexual pleasure is incredibly important for women, and so you shouldn't remove their ability. But second, the idea of a pure woman is old fashioned. I've seen anti feminist, that sort of thing. But in the Sudan, this context wouldn't work. It would be too much too fast. And so to argue with the idea of purity doesn't make sense. So instead, they say, Alright, we're gonna take your concept, your commitment to purity and we're going to say, by your own standards, the woman who is uncut is more more pure than the woman who has cut. And so they choose a particular social norm a particular behavior to try to change. It's not an unimportant behavior, but it's a singular, I should say small behavior, but I don't like that word in this context. And, and so, part of the trick of changing norms is to look at the justifications, the reasons the expectations, and and not impose too much but look for an internal perspective, is that right?
I completely agree. What you say is, you know, Betty, right. And the problem is that our beliefs, okay think of beliefs about tone or purity genital cutting, etc. You know, are in a network is not that we have beliefs in isolation, and what we do when you want to change some beliefs or some practice pieces, you usually don't want to touch these basic psychology, you don't want to touch the core beliefs that people have. Because if you try to touch or, you know, subvert to the core belief, people won't listen to you, you know, they will turn against you, they want to trust you. And so the idea is, Let's respect this core belief that these people have impurity, etc. You say I'm very different from our beliefs, that's a bit different culture. And let's see what they infer from that those core beliefs and one typical inference is the cutting and what you show them is a well, it's not really a good inference, because the core belief is, you know that that is a better actions, better behavior, in support of that belief that has to do believe in purity. Honor, etc, that has to do with the physical integrity. So you leave the core beliefs and attach them. But you try to reinterpret what should be inferred from that core belief. And this has been successful. And I think, of course, if you think of America would be ridiculous to think of Horner. Yeah, and you know, purity, and so on and so forth. But you have to immerse yourself in another culture, if you want to change a few things, and change them in a way that is agreeable and understandable by these people.
When we come back, I want to follow up this idea, I want to ask again about the reference networks and I want to talk a little bit about more about the concept of normal, but I also want to talk about the tension between figuring this stuff up in the laboratory, and then figuring it out, as you call it in the wild, but first we're going to take a break. You're listening to Christina Baker. And jack Russell Weinstein on why philosophical discussions about everyday life. We'll be back right after this.
The Institute for philosophy and public life bridges the gap between academic philosophy and the general public. Its mission is to cultivate discussion between philosophy professionals and others who have an interest in the subject regardless of experience or credentials. visit us on the web at philosophy of public life.org the Institute for philosophy and public life because there is no ivory tower.
You're back with jack Russell Weinstein on why philosophical discussion about everyday life. We're talking with Christina Buckcherry about norms and changing norms. And I guess today is going to be my focus on North Dakota example because one of the things that I was thinking about was a conversation I have with my students a lot. I tease my students any good any good professor is going to poke fun at their students, collectively, not individually. And one of the things I always tell my students is that they're the worst dress students that I've ever had. That you start with first year students and you see they're all dressed up like they think college students are supposed to be from their television shows, from a my age was, you know, Beverly Hills, 92, and oh, or Dawson's Creek. I don't know what anyone watches today. But But, and then after about three or four weeks, the first year students start looking like the the upper level students, they're wearing sweatshirts, they're wearing sweatpants, they stop paying attention, and no one told them to do this. It just happens. And so I have these conversations. And then a student quite a few years ago who was a double major in business and philosophy told me that when she In the business school, they dressed a little better. But if you dress up, it suggests that you want people to look at you that the goal of dressing down is to not call attention to yourself, because calling attention to yourself is bad. So Christina, telling that story. If I wanted to change the practice of student dress in my class, I could of course, force them by law to say, well, it's business casual in my class and nothing else. But it would probably be more effective to look at this idea of what it means to be looked at. Is that what you're saying that rather than just look at the behavior, look at the reasons and the justification for you the behaviors that right?
Yes or no?
It depends, in your case that the answer was that well, I want You know, to be in the mix, I don't want to be, you know, sorted out as different, etc, etc. I think very often, you know, especially when you have children that, you know, go to school, high school, you know, and university etc. They tend to want to be like the rest of the crowd. Okay? And I don't think that it's very conscious that you know, the idea or I don't want to, you know, to be Luke that one way or another, they just want to imitate what other kids do. They want to blend in. Okay? And I think is a very, very basic desire. Okay, without any extra You know, justification, if you will. It's very normal. You know, kids want to blend in, you don't want to be different. Now, whether it is because you don't want their attack to attract attention, unwanted attention or, you know, you think people will look at you differently and maybe be critical or not. I mean, people have different motivations, if you will, psychological motivation. But there is a basic drive to be like others to imitate other behavior. Okay. If you look at high school kids, typically the desire is, well, there is a nice group, there is a group of popular kids and we want to be like them. Okay, so a lot of people, a lot of teens think Oh, these are the popular kids. And you know, they dress in a particular way we want to dress like them to be accepted or whatnot. So there are many different motivation, if you will, to imitate other people, sometime we imitate people because we think it gives us some information you know about about something. So imitation is what we call due to informational influence, sometimes due to normative influence, it depends, but the basic drive to imitate is basically humans.
So, what's the relationship between social norms and normal, right? We use this term normal a lot, often in a sort of abstract way. And sometimes you will meet someone who you just want to say they're a little off, there's something about them, or these variations on the same theme or the is is normal and norm. Totally different terminology. Okay,
normal means common, your normal behavior is usually referred to as common behavior. common behavior is not necessarily you know a social norm. I gave you three examples. One is that we when he trains, we usually go out and open an umbrella, okay and this is very common behavior and we expect you know, if you ask me what do you think people do under the rain when I say but if they have an umbrella they will use it. Okay. And But does this expectation that I have about other people influence my using or not using an umbrella No. So normal behavior in that case is basically the idea that when when it rains, people use umbrella. But this normal behavior in no way influence my behavior. My choice of using an umbrella or not another example may be, let's say, traffic, okay? Let's say traffic lights, okay? And normal behavior is to stop at Red and go when green comes out. And here of course, I do that and I obey the signals, because I expect other people to obey them. If I am in a place where I don't expect other people to obey them, Hey, I am in trouble. I have to spend a lot of time looking around and trying, you know, to be safe. So this is what we call a descriptive norm. So my expectation that other people behave one way or another determines my behavior. You know, I stopped around and going green because I expect other people to do the same. That there are social norms that are much much more if you will, import under heavy wear, think of enormous of fitness. Okay? I may be in a situation where I believe that everybody behaves, or almost everybody behaves in a fair way. And let's say fairness in is interpreted as equality as an example. It may not be but let's suppose for, you know, the sake of argument, that fairness is equality. So we expect people, you know, to cut the cake in equal in equal parts, and it's not just expectation of behavior, but we also believe that that everybody else, expect everybody to do that. And they think if you don't do that, you're really not nice. Okay? And you may want to punish you in some way to sanction you in some way and the punishment may be very mild like gossiping about you May be much stronger, like ostracizing you, we don't want you to be part of our group, okay. So there are different type of sanctions very mild, very, very serious back in the social norm, there are so two kinds of expectation expectation that people behave in a particular way. And what they call the normative expectation, the collective believes that one should behave in that way. And the combination of the two influences behavior is not like using an umbrella where my expectation don't influence my behavior. Here, my expectation do influence my behavior, both the expectation about what people do, and also the expectation about what people approve or disapprove of, they both influenced my behavior. This is a social norm.
So this is an excellent example of of how far philosophers think about the world that that we take something that looks like it's one thing and we analyze it in such a way so we can figure out what it is we want to know and how we can change certain things. Often normatively, you use that word a couple times I use it always in the show, it has a moral component that has to be normative has to be morally obligatory, in some sense. So you started off with this idea of an umbrella, right? And that's just a normal behavior. And if someone doesn't have an umbrella that's between them and their clothes getting wet, and we might say, Oh, that's weird. Sally doesn't use an umbrella. But it's not a big deal. Descriptive norms, like the traffic lights, we expect everyone else to behave in the same way and it is at least theoretically possible to change this and mass you mentioned, sweden, sweden, right, changing the left and right, driving from the left side to the right side. There's a law, there's punishment. There's big campaign, everyone is expected to do it. But then there's this thing called social dorms. And these have both this are based on personal expectations, what people want, what kind of reaction they want, what and then there's the normative aspect, which is, it's about in this case being a good or bad person. And this is incredibly hard to change because even if we might change one individual's ability to cut the cake, the idea of changing a cultures notion of what fair is, would be such a monumental effort that as we know from the history of philosophy takes thousands and thousands of years, right. So, right so
so but not,
not impossible, and it has changed. But but but your main philosophical interest is in this last category of social norms and this question, not only just how do you change these social norms, but how do you identify them? How do you measure them? How do you articulate them It takes a tremendous philosophical effort just to be able to offer these three categories that you engaged in. So, how do you do that? How do you look at a culture and say, Alright, this is custom, this is just individual idiosyncrasy, no, this is a social norm, this is a thing that is deeply rooted. And this is something that we may want to change, how do you do that?
Thanks for the question. This is my main consulting work is based on there. And if I identify you know, collective behaviors in general, you know, I are based or are not based them on social expectations. So first of all, I look and measure social I let me make a parenthesis I measure something else. I measured people factual beliefs. So for let's take child marriage, okay. People have no The factual beliefs are right or wrong about you know, that the fact that a young girl will be more fertile than an older girl, that she will be more obedient to the in laws family, because in this culture, typically the girls goes and live with in laws, that you will get more attached to the husband, and so on and so forth. So there are a lot of factual beliefs that people have again, I'm not saying they are true or false, just what they have.
child marriage is very young here. So So what age shine
marriage means after immediately after puberty, okay, basically, okay. Okay, they're young, so I'm sorry, please continue your know when that is child marriage in these places, is like 13 or 14 year old. Okay, so, yeah, it's not 18 or 19. Right. And, and so, basically We look at the factor beliefs, we look at what I call personal normative beliefs. So, people may have given certain factual beliefs, I may believe that it is right and good, okay to marry my daughter very young because another important factor belief in all this culture is that a girl may be subject to rape, okay, maybe subject to violence and therefore marrying her, we protect her, okay. And so the fact that beliefs are typically always accompanied by some, you know, personal normative beliefs, okay, I measure all that. Then I measure that what they call empirical expectation. What do I mean? I asked people, okay, within your reference network, which I measure, what do you expect? What do you believe other families do? You know, do they marry that, girl younger, we change When how etc. And so I measure what they think other people do. Then I measured what they call normative expectation. They know that I have asked everyone that person or normatively what they think is right or wrong. And then I asked them, okay, what do you think the majority of the people responded to this question? Okay. And so this is a general question about what they believe that other people approve or disapprove of, very important, okay. So I measured that too. Once I have all this data, I want to know is crucial, whether especially the social expectation, cause behavior have an impact on behavior. Now, how do I do that out of the lab, where I cannot really manipulate expectations. And one way to do that is present people with vignettes For example, if it is a father, that vignette will represent another man, another father, coming from a very similar village and having to make the decision whether to marry or not to marry his young girl and that he is a marriage proposal. And this man has to decide what to do and what they do. I sort of tweak modify the expectation, for example, in this village, most people do Marry that girl as soon as they reach puberty, but on the other hand, you know, they don't think it's mandatory. Okay? Actually, they believe that that he may be okay to leave the girl, go to let the girl go to school and marry later. So they do and think, but they don't disapprove doing something else. And then I asked the person what do you think this father will do? different group of people are asked different question. And now their situation may be the situation similar a father who got a very good marriage offer, but in his case, most people do something different. Most people don't marry the girl at 1314 let the girl finish high school. However, you know, they approve of child marriage. So, I show them some incongruent, you know, expectation what people do what people approve and disapprove of maybe different, okay. And then I asked people, okay, what do you think this father will do? And I collect a lot of data. And through the collection of data, I may see for example, that the expectation about what people in fact do has much more weight than the expectation about what people approve of disapprove of if they are incongruent. For example, this gives me a very important door, if you will, into change, because what I see is that the may be enough to change people expectations about what other people do to change the norm. Okay. And there are various techniques to do that. And as you mentioned at the very beginning, I like so far for us, and we can talk about that, if you will.
Yeah, and I absolutely do in just one second. So, just just to take a step back, so, so we have this problem, and this problem is that there's what people approve of, but then what people see So, another example that you cite in the book is this one particular community where, when asked 1% of men approved of punishing their wives physically, but 50% of the men actually did it. Why? Because they saw the other men do it. It was expected and so they engaged in it. So one of the tasks is to show this in congruence. But there's a problem. And the problem is, you can do these examples in a laboratory under controlled conditions, but you consult with UNICEF, you've worked with the United Nations and other groups, and you want to work in the real world, in the wild, as you call it. And so you have to find other methods to show this in congruence and that involves data collection and things like that. And as you just started talking about one way of doing this and I love this so much, is soap operas, right? That's soap operas is an outstanding tool to show to show this incongruity and to move norms how why. Talk to us about soap operas.
Okay, before talking about South Africa, I want to address what you just said before, Lissa popular Which is what we call pluralistic ignorance. Right,
Okay, which is that it really widespread phenomenon in all the situation in which people cannot transparently communicate with each other, what their real preferences are, what they really believe. And there have been a lot of studies done by social psychologists on sort of close communities, like teachers in a school jails, you know, the prison guards in a jail, or, you know, very specific religious communities, etc. And all these communities have certain norms of behavior. And what happens very often, when they interview these people. They will say, Oh, you know, think of teachers Mike Colleagues, you know, clearly support really harsh punishment of students, let's say, I am not in support of that. But you know, I don't want to be put at a disadvantage going against the, you know, the sort of share common rules of behavior, and therefore, you know, I go along with it. So they think, you know, the person think responding this way think I am a deviant, but you know, I don't want to show that I am a deviant and so I behave like everybody else, I wouldn't be harsh etc. They ain't got to see him. He's that many people are, you know, deviance impact on say, you know, in their closet, but don't dare to communicate that. And this is a typical case of pluralistic ignorance, embed norm. So being very harsh with student is these little liked by most. But since they don't have the courage to say, Hey, I dislike it, then, of course, that the norm keeps surviving, because everybody thinks that everybody else
supports it. And that's the ignorance right? That's pluralistic ignorance because everyone's ignorant of everybody else's opinion. And even though people may all have the same opinion, they all wrongfully they're ignorant about what other people's opinions are. And so the norm continues, the baby behavior continues out of ignorance, if everyone had just said, Oh, no, I'm a I'm against cruel punishment of the students. No, I have to I have to find but they won't because they won't speak out because they're afraid of being deviant. That's
exactly, exactly. And we the kind of analysis and diagnostics I do, I can very easily unearth cases of pluralistic ignorance, where, for example, going back to child marriage, it may be the case that A lot of parents have a hidden personal opinion against child marriage, but they feel that, you know, this is the norm. I will be shown my family will be ostracized if we don't do that. So let's do that. Okay. So these are this is very interesting, because when this is the case, is much easier to change behavior, right? Because you inform people on what the common opinion really is. You know, fortunately, it's not always the case.
So you're, you're, you're ignorant about what your reference network thinks. And so one way of handling this is to reveal the true attitudes within the reference network. Another and this is a leading question, but another way of doing this is expanding the reference network. And that is where media comes in. Right? Because
yes, I'm going to talk about the media now.
So so so the the pluralistic ignorance, we keep going back to this idea of reference network, whether it's the factory worker, who's originally from I think you said Pakistan, where his mind his his heart is with the people back in the village, he has to expand his reference network to the Italians with whom he lives and works and all that sort of stuff. But then there are other ways to do this. And that leads us to the media.
Okay, the media
supported support, there are of well done soap operas. And we have lots of data, actually, of studies done about the huge even demographic effects that soap operas have had. In India, Africa, Latin America. Typically the successful soap operas are Long Term support pair us so they last years. This is very important. A second element is the character, the protagonist of the soap opera is somebody people can easily identify with is like them. He goes through the same hurdles, the same problems, the same difficulties. But the interesting thing about these goods about us is that these characters can change. So the behavior of this character would change. And these allows people to aspire to doing something different. So as I said before, to change a social norm, the first thing that needs to be changed is the expectation about other people behavior. And one very interesting element of soap operas. That is real Understood, I think, in the literature is that people usually watch this about better together. And people talk about that with each other. So that is very important collective elements. So we watch these episodes where people do things that we normally don't do. And we, we talk about that. And we see this behavior suddenly as Oh, it's okay. It's impossible behavior is acceptable behavior. People do that. And these really, you know, spurs change. But it does takes time. It must be a sort of collective absorption of these new behavior. And there must be the possibility to identify with this character because if you show You know, to poor Indians, you know, shows like Dallas, they will not identify with Dallas, but they will identify, you know, there are stories about, for example, a famous soap opera in which the kids, especially the young girls want to continue studying. And they want to choose their husband, they don't want an arranged marriage. And it's very interesting because these fictitious character, received lots of mails from girls saying, I want to talk to my parents. You know, I really convinced to do such and such thing and so on and so forth. So they have an effect.
And you discuss in the book I was I was trying to find the right paragraph to get the name but but you'll remember it that there was one soap opera that after the main character, a young girl became a successful I think was entrepreneur. The number of women using sewing machines in the country. Yeah, escalate. Yeah, right. That is once we have this role model, you call them both trendsetters and first movers, right? Once you have these characters either fictitious or real, who defy the expectations, it then can influence the behaviors to give people not just the courage to change. That's a very American way of describing it, but also understanding that the reference network is going to be okay with it.
Absolutely, that the soap opera was called simplemente, Maria, Mary, and it was started in Peru, but it became very popular across Latin America, Spanish speaking countries. And again, it's a story of a very poor girl. It lasted years, by the way, with very poor girl that you know, decides to go to a In a nice school, you know, to become too low to know, to learn how to sue. And then, you know, working hard, she can buy a sewing machine. And she starts, you know, making money, you know, has a job and her life changes completely etc. And as he said that this led to an increase and enormous number of people buying sewing machines, and starting, you know, looking for jobs, wanting to have a job wanting to go to evening school, if they have a job during the day and so on and so forth. So it's very, very important, but I want to add a philosophical point. When Rousseau wrote la Novell, Eloise, I read some very interesting articles about that. You know, it became a very popular book in Europe. Of course, it was a popular book among certain people, not Everybody because not everybody could afford the book.
And this is the 18th century. This is this is yes, this is the late 1700s. JOHN Jacques Rousseau, French philosopher.
Sorry, go on. And Rousseau kept all the letters that his reader wrote to him for years. You know, because what they were doing is very interesting. They was they were reading la novella, Louise in groups. So there is this collective element that you see with soap operas, and they were discussing, you know, Lando, Bella Louise and all these episodes, and what was going on reading and reading with family and friends. And the letter say something very interesting. They say something like, I didn't know how to be a good husband and good father. I learned it through you. Thank you for teaching me and they learn through these networks. And very often we learn new behavior through a narrative. Now, the valid ways, in some sense, was a soap opera of that century had a very, very important effect on people, of course, on, you know, a smaller number of people, because few people could buy books, but those who could, you know, really were deeply influenced in their behavior in their family behavior. By Rousseau, this is very interesting, you know, to think of because it's not that's a thought that I set out, you know, the first time people are influenced by narrative. There are examples in the past, you know, in which people were very, very influenced and they change behavior. They change important behavior because of that narrative.
And it's also interesting for the philosophers are following at home for sport, that it's so because he was an awful he Big he had what six kids out of wedlock and drop them off at the at the edge. Right? So the idea that he's teaching anyone to be a father is one of the great ironies of philosophy. But I want to take a massive step back for a second. Because I realized as I was preparing for the show that your book is, is in a context that we actually haven't talked about in the 10 years of the show, you're doing a you're engaged in, among other things, a project that's, that's a part of what's called game theory. And I wonder if you would talk a little bit about game theory, and what it is and how it informs human behavior, and why it's so philosophically important for doing this kind of work. What can philosophers psychologists, cognitive scientists, others learn from games and why are games essential? To the idea of understanding how people choose what to do.
Well, thank you. So it's a very important question. Now, Game Theory deals in a very formal and abstract way, if you will, with interdependent behavior. What does it mean interdependent that what I do in a game depends on what I think other people are doing, and vice versa. Okay. And the key concept or game theory is the concept of Nash equilibrium. And what is an equilibrium is just a situation when our reciprocal beliefs are correct. And so we don't need to change anything, you know, learning stops there. Now, what do we do with game theory? In my case, particularly, I do a lot of experiments in which with social norms, and game theory, I give you an example. Typical game that we use in experiment is it trust game, trust game is a game in which that is an investor that is given a certain amount of money and he can invest, I give you the simplest possible case, either all the money, give the money to somebody else and then I tell you what happened or keep all the money. So, there are two choices. And if this guy gives all the money to the second person that is completely anonymous, he doesn't know this person, the money is multiply by three by the experimenter. So, the second person, the receiver receives quite a bit, big, big amount of money and it can do two things. Again, this is a simplest possible case, keep all the money to herself or give us back and there is an important norms involved. here and is a normal reciprocity. If you receive money from Let's call him the trust or the investor, typically you would reciprocate, you know, give him back something. And so we want to measure how basically giving people different information, changing their expectations and so on and so forth, really changes behavior, you know, so we use these game that are very, very simplified, real life situation because certain area life there is lots of thrusting and reciprocating yes or no and so on and so forth. But we want to see in the most abstract situation, what people do, and if we modify that information, and then modify their expectations. What happens when they change that bit? havior not what's going to happen and give you a short answer. Yes, the behavior changes. So when when you modify people expectation, behavior changes in significant ways for the worse sometimes.
Right? So, so to connect the dots, right, you have this person has some money, and and he or she knows that. If If I'll say he just just for the sake of it, yeah, if he gives us money to this other person, that person may give more money back or not give any money back. But if they don't act, they if they keep the money they they get to keep all the money but there's a risk and a chance they have to make this judgment. It's a game they have to predict how the unknown person is going to ask and this of course, is a simplified version of exactly what's happening with child brides with cutting right if you don't cut your daughter, you have to predict whether someone will marry her if you let your cut out your child right To be 18 or 25 and marry you have to an example you used before, predict whether or not she will be raped or or something along those lines. These are obviously very extreme examples. But part of the reason why social norms come out of game theory is that all of our behaviors, all of our expectations are based on how we think the reference network will behave. But as you talked about pluralistic ignorance, it's a game because we think we know what they believe, but we don't actually know what they believe. So we're, we're,
we're working on so we do sometimes we do. Sometimes people, you know, very transparently talk about that, but sometimes they don't. And you know, it depends on the situation, but certain you always have to predict, especially in the case in which you decide, I am sending my daughter to school. Okay, and She's 18. And then your example you mentioned it, I have to predict which you find a husband, eventually. This is a very important prediction because you are playing with the life of a person. Right. And, you know, sometimes people can predict, but sometimes people cannot predict. And it's an interesting question. And again, when we do our measurement, etc, we, among other things, look at people predictions, you know, because their predictions drive their behavior.
So, so, two related questions and the basic question is, how often are people right, but but the question I want to ask is, I guess I'll ask it this way. Is there a difference between how often people are right in will say democratic liberal countries where there is a civil society where people are talking and writing op eds and engaging in public politics and non democratic or non liberal democracies, maybe developing countries, the places you probably end up working with UN UNICEF and things like that. Is there a difference in pluralistic ignorance and how informed people actually are in those models? Or does it end up being a wash?
It's a very interesting question.
You know, sometimes, if I think of child marriage, you know, there is an overestimation, actually, of the probability of the young girl being raped or getting pregnant out of wedlock, etc. So they have very high probabilities for events that are very low probability. So there is no better estimation very often. But let's go back to our democratic model. So sorry. Case do people have through information? Well, we are full of fake news and fake information and crazy information think of the Novak's people or think of the people who believe that the earth is flat. Okay? And what they find very interesting in our society is that is easy availability of all sorts of information. So, if I am inclined to be a Novak's person, I go on the internet, and I can find all sorts of information supporting my view, and vice versa. So what I think, you know, I may think this is completely false, etc. But it's very interesting that, you know, we are all all of us myself. Included prey to a confirmation bias. So what happens is, when we receive information, we tend to give more weight to information that support our belief and conviction and underweight information that rejects basically, our beliefs or make us doubt at least about our beliefs. This is human. This is a common bias. Now the problem in our society, we have so much information. And sometimes people have no way to distinguish really fake information from good information. What's a good medical journal was a really bad medical journal. Very few people know that. You know, the Lancet is a top journal and other journals are not this good. Okay, and the criteria for accepting a paper are very high on Certain journal is very low on others. And many people don't know that. And so they go and look for articles in so called expert journals that are completely bogus. And what is happening is and is worrying to me is that is an incredible polarization of opinions. Exactly because of the confirmation bias because we look, we try to look at information that confirms our prior opinions. You know, that is an incredible polarization, and people don't talk to each other anymore. So this is that this is very serious. Okay, so in very more primitive, let's put in inverted commas, less modern societies, there may be less polarization, okay, and we may say, Oh, that is an overestimation or underestimation of certain events, bad in our society is probably even worse because it is Incredible polarization and incredible use and misuse of information that people make.
You know, I think about the comment you made when you started answering about how there may be an overestimation of risk in terms of rape in school. And I think well, you know, people have been telling me for years that actually, the school shooting statistics suggests that the number of school shootings are going down, not up. And I can't believe that and I, like many people of my generation are plagued by that by the story of Elizabeth smart, right. Every time my daughter's window is open, I'm terrified, which is ridiculous, right? I know, we ridiculous, but and so. So we are all guilty, regardless of the culture of holding on to these stories and holding on to these fears. And so I guess that's one of the reasons why the work is right. And as we close, I guess I'll ask I'll ask about it. This way, your work is both universal and particular at the same time, right? You're you're trying to make universal claims about human behavior, about risk assessment about games about all that, but at the same time, it has to be contextual, because social norms are local. Right? Yeah. So how do you do that? As a philosopher? I guess this will be the last question although I notoriously lie and ask follow up questions. But um, how do you do that as a philosopher, how do you balance the universal sort of claims about human nature and tendencies with the local context and information that is relevant in particular to your consulting work, but also your overall research?
Set not difficult to balance because the skeletal structure the measurement of all sorts of beliefs and social expectations Shown set and the cause and analysis is the same what you know this is a skeletal, you know part, but then there are the muscle flesh, which is the look of capture and we marry the two. So, the skeletal is what guides me in you know deciding what to ask etc, but the flesh and you know and muscles if you will is an analysis of the local culture for I give you a very quick example, before I construct a survey and again I know exactly the skeleton what what sort of question I need to ask, but the content of the question is determined by what we do as focus groups. So, I talk to the people locally and I tried to understand, you know, what are very important beliefs you have Know what they feel about certain behavior, what their emotional responses on and so on and so forth. And these leads me to, you know, to ask, you know, on in the survey questions that are related to what they think about a certain problem, but the skeleton is the same is always measured in, you know, factual normative beliefs or social expectation, analyzing causality, etc is the same, that the content, the specific content is very local. And there is, you know, no conflict between the two.
Do they trust you, when you talk to the locals? Can you talk yourself, I mean, assume you know, linguistic problems aside, do you have to get locals to talk to the other locals? Absolutely. How much do you use that filter? How much do you rely on the trust of locals to gather the information and And how does how does that work? I guess that's
a million dollar question.
And these are part a big part of my work is to basically choose local companies often is a local NGO, for example, when I do you know, trials, but even when I do the survey, when I do the survey, I have to hire a reputable company in the nation when I do that, that is experienced in the area, where I do the survey. Then I train the surveyors. For example, I go to India, I went many time to train the people who do the survey. In the area where I did behind Tamil Nadu. I train them then We do random checks, okay? We go down in the villages, let's say and see what they are doing. And typically the the company will hire, okay, surveyors that are familiar with the population. So it's very, very important. And in many cases, women will be asked by other women, men by men, because we men will not be comfortable answering question posed by men, even if they know the men, and vice versa. And so it is the beak. The biggest job is preparing a survey, finding a good survey company, training the surveyors and randomised control in the field to see that everything goes well. So this is a big chunk. People don't see that they think are you prepared? The survey, no important job that you have to do, you know, in the middle basically.
Well, I am exhausted just hearing about it. And and and it's it's a great example for all of our listeners to see all of the ways in which philosophy can be applied can be practical and the ways in which the philosophical approach informs social science and and all sorts of information that has profound real world effects. So Christina, thank you so much for joining us on why this has really been fascinating.
Thank you so much. It was a pleasure to answer your questions.
You have been listening to Christina Buckcherry and jack Russell Weinstein. on why philosophical discussion but everyday life and I will be back with a few thoughts right after this.
Visit IPP ELS blog pq EDI philosophical questions every day. For more philosophical discussions of everyday life. Comment on the entries and share your points of view with an ever growing community of professional and amateur philosophers. You can access the blog and view more information on our schedule our broadcasts and the y radio store at www dot philosophy and public life.org.
You're back with wide philosophical discussions about everyday life. I'm jack Russell Weinstein, we were talking with Christina Buckcherry about social norms. Human Interaction can be thought of as a game, right? We have predictions about the future we face risks, we want to have the best result but we don't always know what to do to get that social norms tell us what to do in order to get the most likely result. But what happens if we have to change those social norms? What happens if we marry off young women too young, or we engage in cutting or all sorts of other things that you can imagine, like fighting in the United States, like being rude to one another, like cutting the cake in an incorrect way? social norms are incredibly hard to change. And so the philosopher asks, What is a social norm? How do we identify it? How do we measure it? What makes it good and bad? And then only then how do we change it? That's what Christina is trying to do. And she has one foot in the theoretical world and one foot in the practical world. she engages in this fairly technical, but often accessible research that has models and and charts and talks about rationality In all these sorts of things, her book norms in the wild, I recommend that you read it. It is easily understandable. It can get analytic at times and technical, but I think most of our readers would get it. And at the same time, she goes to India and she goes to the Sudan, and she works with the United Nations and UNICEF to try to make the world a better place. So few philosophers do that. They do that for a variety of reasons. Or I should say, they don't do that for a variety of reasons. But one of which is the moment you take the theoretical and apply it, it becomes infinitely more complicated. We can take the idea of social norms and play a game in a laboratory, and it will tell us about human nature, natural human tendencies, but once we apply it locally, the variables are so immense, the complexities are so abstract, that it becomes infinitely more problematic. That is what she's trying to do and that is what we were trying to articulate today. What does it mean to ask about social norms abstractly? and practically? And what are the examples that we can use to see how it succeeds and how it fails? That was the goal of today's conversation. And as always, it was complicated. But in the end, I think and I hope you did, it made a lot of sense and helped me understand things about the world that I didn't get before. You've been listening to jack Russell Weinstein on why philosophical discussions about everyday life. Thank you for listening. As always, it's an honor to be with you.
Why is funded by the Institute for philosophy and public life Prairie Public Broadcasting in the University of North Dakota is College of Arts and Sciences and division of Research and Economic Development. Skip wood is our studio engineer. The music is written and performed by Mark Weinstein and can be found on his album Louis soul For more of his music, visit jazz flute Weinstein calm or my space.com slash Mark Weinstein. Philosophy is everywhere you make it and we hope we've inspired you with our discussion today. Remember, as we say at the Institute, there is no ivory tower.