World after
How do we navigate
the changes ahead?
How do we navigate
the changes ahead?
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Shinobu Kitayama, Culture & Neuroscience


Culture & Neuroscience

Shinobu Kitayama


Shinobu Kitayama is the Robert B. Zajonc Collegiate Professor of Psychology at the University of Michigan. He is the recipient of numerous awards for his research in cultural variations in mental processes including the Guggenheim Fellowship and the Fulbright Fellowship. He is an elected member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and President of the Association for Psychological Science.

Transcription of the video


Which domain or aspect of social life will show the most significant positive societal and/or psychological change in response to the pandemic?

Recently I was looking into what happened in 1918 influenza pandemic. And people were really impacted by that pandemic back then. But there was no significant psychological, societal change afterward. So I’m not sure if there’s any significant changes happening automatically. But this doesn’t mean that no change is needed. The world has changed quite a bit since then. And most likely, this kind of pandemic infectious diseases will be more frequent, if anything, so unless the humanity prepares itself for future pandemic like this, even greater disaster can happen easily. And therefore, I really think that humans need to change, societies need to change, and the cultural norms must change. And those changes may not happen automatically. If you leave it to people without doing any active intervention, people will restore their life in a few years, hopefully, and they forget. So in all likelihood, nothing happens. Proactive efforts towards societal change may be called upon. And now what kind of change is required and that could be is the next question. And I think there are two critical things. One, the idea of globalization as inherently virtuous, must be evaluated. This requires major reassessment. Second, there must be really active effort to preserve ecological diversity and the preservation of habitats for non-human animals and the plants, which need to be separated from the human habitat. And, to realize those, I think our motivational system needs to change. Right now over the last several hundred years, especially in the western half of the hemisphere, virtue was based on achievement and social comparison. Now this needs to be changed. To the one that is based on more holistic value, and holistic virtue of coexistence of all elements on the earth, and beyond.


What kind of wisdom will people need to capitalize on the positive societal and/or psychological change after the pandemic?

Globalization need to be reassessed. The globalization that has been practiced over the last several decades, is essentially amounting to, privileging of the wealthy, while ignoring the poor. This disparity in wealth becomes larger and larger. Globalization essentially left behind many people. Its simply because the wealth was concentrated on the people who capitalize on information, technology and that’s benefited from globalization. Globalization or move towards globalization change, and if globalization is to continue, which I hope it will, all globalization must proceed by incorporating the poor and underdeveloped countries. Globalization must be detached from international business competition.


Which domain or aspect of social life will show the most significant negative societal and/or psychological change in response to the pandemic?

If neither of the two changes I consider to be necessary that is reassessment of globalization in the reduction of the wealth disparity happens and then there’ll be greater likelihood of even greater disasters, to humanity in some near future. Now why is that? Well, story is very simple. Globalization, essentially makes it possible for virus to travel easily. And two, disparity. Why disparity matters? Because once you segregate the poor, and put them in some segregated area, that place is most likely to be hit and attacked by the virus. It’s very clear in the United States, for example, that simply mortality is much higher for African Americans. For example, essentially prejudice, segregation, poverty, all those systemic factors really fuels the movement and activity of the virus and once this happens, the entire society cannot stay free from this. And therefore, one globalization and two racial segregation, wealth disparity needs to be addressed very systematically and aggressively to reduce the likelihood of future pandemic.


What kind of wisdom will people need to master to overcome major negative societal and/or psychological changes after the pandemic?

One wisdom that may be needed is to find a way to reduce physical social contact and a physical social distance without diminishing psychological or symbolic or psychological social contract. We are capable of connecting with others symbolically, or by using this kind of online means and might be possible to change the society in such a way that we can be connected to a greater number of people without doing anything dangerous, especially when the buyers become a real danger and threat. That’s something that anyone and everyone can do and probably should do right away. But at the same time, in the long term, It’s very important to try to reduce wealth disparity and racial discrimination. Since, it’s a really the weak spot of society, which is being attacked by the virus. And I think something like this, that is combination of globalization and racial discrimination or wealth disparity. That might be part of the reason why some countries including the United States, has been hit especially hard by the current pandemic. So that’s the second issue, which is much more difficult to address. But that’s something we need in the long term.


What piece of wisdom do people need to make it through the pandemic?

Social distancing, physical distancing, realizing some physical distancing, without compromising, psychological social distance, psychological social proximity.

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