Not only are we in a sense defined by our DNA, but new research shows our behavior may also be affected by that of our ancestors. So observe the authors of a paper published in Science Advances recently. Thomas Talhelm from the University of Chicago has an interest in the cultural differences between northern and southern China. Northerners are considered more individualistic, brash and aggressive, while southerners are conflict averse and more deferential.
The first part of the study observed 8964 people sitting in a cafe in six cities across China and found that northerners were more likely to be sitting alone. The second part was more proactive. The researchers moved chairs in Starbucks across the country to partially block an aisle. True to type, people in the north, as from Beijing and Shenyang, were more than twice as likely to move the chair out of the way than people in Hong Kong or Shanghai, the latter being most averse.
The authors note that herding is an individualistic activity, constant moving making for transitory relationships (the US?), whereas farming is a settled occupation with stable, long-term ties. Now they have taken farming a step further: Rice farming in the south requires complex irrigation systems for the paddies forcing cooperation and coordination among multiple families. In contrast, farming dry-land crops like wheat and millet requiring less cooperation is more individualistic. The authors contend that over time, the tightly coordinated rice farming pushed southerners towards “a more interdependent culture”.
In the last couple of years we have seen a cooperative Europe facing a quintessential maverick, as in Donald Trump, a man who lives in his own world. So why is Trump, Trump? As in the study, clues to his behavior ought to lie in his ancestors.
The town of Kallstadt, Germany, given the character of its people, is sick and tired of being asked about Mr. Trump, his forbears, his grandfather’s house called Trump Haus, and other assorted questions in similar vein.
Mr. Trump’s grandfather Fredrich was born in Kallstadt, a village inundated with wineries, where seats for wine-tasting during the season outnumber the population. It produces predominately Riesling. Vintners, individualist in the extreme, guard their secrets and promote their brand, the ultimate bottle price a reflection of perceived value as even experts can disagree on quality.
Grandfather Fredrich left at the age of 16 to make his fortune in the U.S. He and his wife returned to Kallstadt to retire but there were problems as he had failed to complete his obligatory military service, and the couple were forced to go back to America.
If there are overtones in Donald the grandson, then, as they say, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. He recalls a childhood trip to Kallstadt with his father Fred, “It was wine country, it was serious Germany,” adding “I have a warm spot in my heart for Germany,” On his mother’s side, he is Scottish: Mary Anne MacLeod emigrated from the Outer Hebrides, Scotland and was a domestic worker before she married his father. Yet in “The Art of the Deal” published in 1987, he claims Swedish ancestry, as did his father. Living in a different world, it’s always Trump the salesman with a convenient truth. He may have had inviting ideas for those fed up with our wars but they are difficult to pursue alone.
If rice farmers are the most cooperative and wheat growers more individualistic, then wine-makers are off the scale, even though in grape production small growers might band together for economy.
To this add the bullying and bluster encouraged by his father who taught him to play tough and we having a personality ripe for the worst errors in decision making.
Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky pioneered the field of behavioral economics, demonstrating human tendencies to bias, rules of thumb, representativeness through observed frequencies, even more subtle influences we may not realize. A few are shown below and we are all susceptible.
Thus hindsight bias or looking at past decisions, particularly bad ones and finding reasons (excuses) why one was right in one’s decision. Similarly, placing severe blame on subordinates because you believe you could have done better. It is why Trump berates subordinates as portrayed so vividly in Bob Woodward’s book on Trump’s White House. Thus the Attorney General is “mentally retarded” and the Commerce Secretary is past his prime.
‘Confirmation and social bias’: The first involves viewing facts selectively to confirm what we believe to be true, the second a desire to conform with our social group. Thus Trump claims not to believe in climate change, just like his supporters, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary collected over decades. He knows they love him for it, for showing the snoot scientists where to get off.
Worse is his changed stance on U.S. belligerence abroad. As a candidate, he promised to pull us out of foreign misadventures, bring our troops home, and work for a real peace with Russia. It’s a 180-degree turnaround now to a policy barely different from Obama? We are still everywhere he stuck us. The staff around Trump in the White House, the State Department, the military advisors, have almost all been in the game a while with firmly implanted views: American exceptionalism, America as the supreme and lone superpower, America that can’t be messed around with and so on. And Congress is a docile if not lobbyist-captured willing participant. Trump has simply failed to challenge them. Hence the old southern expression, ‘you have to go along to git along’.
There we have it. We have Trump pegged. Like any businessman, he understands survival, and his origins make him uniquely boastful. By the way, the Germans have a word, brulljesmacher, for the natives of Trump’s hometown based on their centuries old reputation. It means ‘braggart’.