The Inglehart-Welzel World Cultural map replaces geographic accuracy with closeness in terms of values.
- This map replaces geography with another type of closeness: cultural values.
- Although the groups it depicts have familiar names, their shapes are not.
- The map makes for strange bedfellows: Brazil next to South Africa and Belgium neighboring the U.S.
Some countries value self-expression more than others.Credit: Robyn Beck / AFP via Getty Images
Question: On what map is Lithuania a neighbor of China, Poland lies next to Brazil, and Morocco and Yemen touch?
Answer: The Inglehart-Welzel World Cultural Map. To be precise, the 2017 map. Because on the 2020 version, each of those pairs has drifted apart significantly.
These are not, strictly speaking, maps but rather scatterplot diagrams. Each dot represents a country, the position of which is based on how it ranks on two different values (discussed below). The dots are corralled together into geo-cultural groups:
- Catholic Europe, which comprises countries as diverse and far apart as Hungary and Andorra■ Protestant Europe, taking in both Iceland and Germany
- The Orthodox world, from Belarus all the way to Armenia
- The three Baltic states
- The English-speaking world, including both the U.S. and Northern Ireland
- The huge African-Islamic world, ranging from Azerbaijan to South Africa
- Latin America, which goes from Mexico to Argentina
- South Asia, which comprises both India and Cyprus
- The Confucian world, encompassing China and Japan.
The placement of the dots indicates cultural proximity or distance. Some countries from different groups can be more similar than other countries in the same group.
See the examples indicated above: cultural neighbors China and Lithuania belong to the Confucian and Baltic groups, respectively. Poland is part of Catholic Europe; its 2017 neighbor Brazil is in Latin America. Morocco and Yemen are closer culturally to Armenia, in the Orthodox group, than they are to Qatar, despite all belonging to the African-Islamic group.
The 2017 version of the map places Malta deep inside South America and lets Vietnam, Portugal, and Macedonia meet.Credit: World Values Survey, public domain.
Creating a culture map
So, what exactly are the criteria used for plotting these dots in the first place?
These maps are part of the World Values Survey, first conducted by political scientist Ronald Inglehart in the late 1990s. With his colleague Christian Welzel, he produced an update in 2005. The WVS has been revised several times since, most recently in 2020.
The WVS asserts that there are two fundamental dimensions to cross-cultural variation across the world. These are used as the axes to plot the various countries on the diagram.
- The X-axis measures survival versus self-expression values.
Survival values focus on economic and physical security. There is not much room for trust and tolerance of "others." Self-expression values prioritize well-being, quality of life, and self-expression. There is more room for tolerating ethnic, religious, and sexual minorities.
- The Y-axis measures traditional versus secular-rational values.
Traditional values include deference to religion and parental authority as well as traditional social and family values. Societies that score high on traditions typically also are highly nationalistic. In more secular-rational societies, science and bureaucracy replace faith as the basis for authority. Secular-rational values include high tolerance of things like divorce, abortion, euthanasia, and suicide.
As indicated by the significant changes on the 2020 map, the cultural values of nations are not static:
- Countries that move up on the map are shifting from traditional to more secular-rational values.
- Countries that move to the right on the map are shifting from survival values to self-expression values.
- And, of course, vice versa in both cases.
According to the authors of the map, changes in cultural outlook can be the result of socioeconomic changes — increasing levels of wealth, for example. But the religious and cultural heritage of each country also plays a part.
The world's cultural landscape is dynamic — you could even say promiscuous, producing new bedfellows every few years.Credit: World Values Survey, public domain.
Some notable features of the 2020 map:
- The Baltic group has been dissolved; Lithuania is now part of Catholic Europe, Estonia a lone Protestant island in a Catholic sea. More worryingly, Latvia seems to have dissolved completely.
- In general, survival values are strongest in African-Islamic countries, self-expression values in Protestant Europe.
- Traditional values are strongest in African-Islamic countries and Latin America, while secular values dominate in Confucian countries and Protestant Europe.
- The United States is an atypical member of the English-speaking group, scoring much lower on both scales (that is to say, lower and more to the left). In other words, the U.S. is more into traditional and survival values than the group's other members.
- Shifting attitudes don't just separate; they also unite. Belgium and the U.S. are now culture buddies, as are New Zealand and Iceland. Kazakhstan is virtually indistinguishable from Bosnia.
The Inglehart-Welzel map is not without its critics. It has been decried as Eurocentric, simplistic, and culturally essentialist (that is, the assumption that certain cultural characteristics are essential and fixed, and that some are superior to others). Which is, of course, a very self-expressive thing to say.
For more on these maps, on the WVS surveys, and on the methodology used, visit the World Values Survey.
Strange Maps #1098
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Humans may have evolved to be tribalistic. Is that a bad thing?
- From politics to every day life, humans have a tendency to form social groups that are defined in part by how they differ from other groups.
- Neuroendocrinologist Robert Sapolsky, author Dan Shapiro, and others explore the ways that tribalism functions in society, and discuss how—as social creatures—humans have evolved for bias.
- But bias is not inherently bad. The key to seeing things differently, according to Beau Lotto, is to "embody the fact" that everything is grounded in assumptions, to identify those assumptions, and then to question them.
Why are rapture ideologies exploding?
- The speed at which civilization is progressing has become overwhelming for modern humans and has caused what Jamie Wheal (author of Recapture the Rapture, founder of the Flow Genome Project, and host of the Collective Insights Podcast) calls a "collapse of meaning."
- For many, Meaning 1.0 (organized religion) and Meaning 2.0 (modern liberalism) no longer provide the structure and guidance that they used to. "It does feel like the handrails, the things we used to look to for stability and security, have evaporated," says Wheal. "If we've experienced a collapse of meaning, how do we go about restoring it?"
- In order to reach Meaning 3.0—which Wheal says is a blend of traditional religion and modern liberalism without the promise of an escape—we need to focus on mending trauma, reconnecting with inspiration, and connecting better with one another.
How fabric helped build modern civilization.
- Virginia Postrel, author of "The Fabric of Civilization: How Textiles Made the World," describes how the pursuit of textiles has led to a vast variety of innovations throughout history. Notably, the launch of the Industrial Revolution started with the machines that mechanized the spinning of thread.
- The term luddite, which has now come to mean "people who have [an] ideological opposition to technology," started with textiles. The original Luddites of the 19th century were weavers who rioted when they began losing their jobs to power looms.
- Postrel states that human beings throughout the world and across history independently discovered different processes for creating cloth. She goes on to say that "weaving is something that is deeply mathematical… It seems to be this kind of human activity that's thinking in ones and zeros that's anticipating our modern computer age."
The more you see them, the better you get at spotting the signs.
When Donald Trump belatedly acknowledged defeat two months after last year's US presidential election, some news reports zeroed in on a fundamental question: whether his speech had actually happened at all.
The dramatic proliferation of deepfakes – online imagery that can make anybody appear to do or say anything within the limits of one's imagination, cruelty, or cunning – has begun to undermine faith in our ability to discern reality.
According to one startup's estimate, the number of deepfake videos online jumped from 14,678 in 2019 to 145,277 by June of the following year. Last month, the FBI warned that "malicious actors" will likely deploy deepfakes in the US for foreign influence operations and criminal activity in the near future. Around the world, there are concerns the technology will increasingly become a source of disinformation, division, fraud and extortion.
When Myanmar's ruling junta recently posted a video of someone incriminating the country's detained civilian leader, it was widely dismissed as a deepfake. Last year, the Belgian prime minister's remarks linking COVID-19 to climate change turned out to be a deepfake, and Indian politician Manoj Tiwari's use of the technology for campaigning caused alarm. In Gabon, belief that a video of the country's ailing president was a deepfake triggered a national crisis in early 2019.
However, some say a more pressing issue is the increased vulnerability of non-public figures to online assault. Indian journalist Rana Ayyub has detailed attempts to silence her using deepfake pornography, for example.
Some argue the threat of the technology itself is overhyped – and that the real problem is that bad actors can now dismiss video evidence of wrongdoing by crying "deepfake" in the same way they might dismiss media reports that they dislike as "fake news."
Still, according to one report, technically-sophisticated, "tailored" deepfakes present a significant threat; these may be held in reserve for a key moment, like an election, to maximize impact. As of 2020 the estimated cost for the technology necessary to churn out a "state-of-the-art" deepfake was less than $30,000, according to the report.
The popularizing of the term "deepfakes" had a sordid origin in 2018. Calls to regulate or ban them have grown since then; related legislation has been proposed in the US, and in 2019 China made it a criminal offense to publish a deepfake without disclosure. Facebook said last year it would ban deepfakes that aren't parody or satire, and Twitter said it would ban deepfakes likely to cause harm.
It's been suggested that the best way to inoculate people against the danger of deepfakes is through exposure. A variety of efforts have been made to help the public understand what's at stake.
Last year, the creators of the popular American cartoon series "South Park" posted the viral video "Sassy Justice," which features deepfaked versions of Trump and Mark Zuckerberg. They explained in an interview that anxiety about deepfakes may have taken a back seat to pandemic-related fears, but the topic nonetheless merits demystifying.
For more context, here are links to further reading from the World Economic Forum's Strategic Intelligence platform:
- A growing awareness of deepfakes meant people were quickly able to spot bogus online profiles of "Amazon employees" bashing unions, according to this report – though a hyper-awareness of the technology could also lead people to stop believing in real media. (MIT Technology Review)
- The systems designed to help us detect deepfakes can be deceived, according to a recently-published study – by inserting "adversarial examples" into every video frame and tripping up machine learning models. (Science Daily)
- Authoritarian regimes can exploit cries of "deepfake." According to this opinion piece, claims of deepfakery and video manipulation are increasingly being used by the powerful to claim plausible deniability when incriminating footage surfaces. (Wired)
- It's easy to blame deepfakes for the proliferation of misinformation, but according to this opinion piece the technology is no more effective than more traditional means of lying creatively – like simply slapping a made-up quote onto someone's image and sharing it. (NiemanLab)
- A recently-published study found that one in three Singaporeans aware of deepfakes believe they've circulated deepfake content on social media, which they later learned was part of a hoax. (Science Daily)
- "It really makes you feel powerless." Deepfake pornography is ruining women's lives, according to this report, though a legal solution may be forthcoming. (MIT Technology Review)
- "A propaganda Pandora's box in the palm of every hand." Deepfake efforts remain relatively easily detected, according to this piece – but soon the same effects that once required hundreds of technicians and millions of dollars will be possible with a mobile phone. (Australian Strategic Policy Institute)