Knowing your place

by Richard on June 27, 2004

Once again, I’m just thinking aloud…

We take it for granted that the culture we grow up in sets our most basic beliefs patterns of thought. Not irrevocably, of course. But that our culture gives us our world view seems to me to be a given. Is anyone arguing?


I’ve been wondering if there is a deeper and more fundamental shaper of our world view. Does anyone know if any studies have been made of the influence of the geography of where we live on human thinking? Is it possible that to some extent our thoughts are constrained by our homeland? Not our culture, but the land itself?

Don’t worry. I’m not disappearing up some New Age “Earth-Mother-is-my-guide-She-speaks-to-me-when-I-hug-this-tree” blind alley. But as I prepare to cross the Atlantic I’ve been thinking about some of those trans-Atlantic differences we all know about. One of the things I really enjoy about the USA is the “can-do” attitude which is so differentto the basic British mindset, especially in South Wales. (According to the newspapers, Michael Douglas calls Catherine Zeta Jones “Dame Doom” because of her basic pessimism. I believe it because it rings so true of her native Swansea. You can take the girl from Swansea, but you can’t take Swansea out of the girl!)

So I’m wondering aloud… Does the land in which we grow up literally change our minds? Does the optimism of the US come from it’s wide-open empty spaces, so suggestive of new possibilities and opportunities? Are the British more pessimistic because our place is smaller and more crowded?

Or am I talking through the wrong orifice? ;)

{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }


Ian McKenzie 06.27.04 at 4:26 pm

By extrapolation, Canadians must be the most optimistic people on the planet. In reality, I think we fall somewhere between the Brits and the Yanks. Blessings


Brian 06.27.04 at 4:48 pm

I don’t know about any research, but in the area of urban/land planning, environmental determinism is making a comeback. It’s the idea that where we live affects our behavior. That is, certain types of neighborhoods might increase the propensity of individuals to commit crime, for instance. Would they go as far as to say that it affects how/what we think? No idea. I suspect our view of the world is more related to cultural constructs than physical location. Hmm…


Camassia 06.28.04 at 1:11 am

Back when I took a 100-level religion course in college, my professor lectured about a theory that the climate people live in affects their basic cosmology. So in India, where a violent monsoon season is followed by an explosion of life from the rain, a cyclical cosmology of birth and destruction and rebirth devoloped. Meanwhile, dwellers in the desert assumed that time is linear and death is eternal, while folks in the relatively gentle climate of Greece thought the world was tame enough to be picked apart and understood.I guess that isn’t exactly geography, but climate is certainly tied to geography. Unfortunately I don’t remember who the original creator of this theory was…


Dan 06.28.04 at 8:33 am

I had a theory once: The reason for the trademark British pessimism is that, for the past 300 years, anyone with any kind of genetic disposition towards adventure and poineering, has been going to America, Autralia, India or wherever. So all of us who are left are decended from the people who couldn’t be bothered or though it looked a bit too risky. Basically, all our “get up and go” has got up and gone.

Also, there was that research into population density amoung rats. It turns out, if the population density rises too much, the rats start killing each other. That explians London then.


Ivan The Crank 06.28.04 at 3:49 pm

I suspect that one might generalize about cultural propensity towards optimism or pessimism, but I suspect that external factors have as much to do with how we lean as much as wide open spaces verses close neighbors in tight quarters. Since September 11 and then the latest Iraq war, I sense that we Americans have become more pessimistic. It’s hard not to be when we are daily bombarded with visual and written reminders that the world we live in is not as safe and secure as we once thought. Maybe another reason we were more optimistic is because, Pearl Harbor aside, we have not had war reach our shores since we fought ourselves in the Civil War in the 1860’s. Britain has not had that luxury since every war on the European Continent or any war touching the British Empire effected the British citizens directly. Now, the war on terror has reached our shores and we are reminded of it in the headlines and every time we attend a sporting event, board an airplane or witness a major public event. Security is tight, people who look different (whatever that means) are suspect and our optimistic spirit has been diminished. And yet, every day is a new day and we proclaim in the Church that we are a people of the resurrection; a people of the future where God ultimately wins over all sources of our pessimism. That Source of Optimism is surely not restricted by any geography or culture, but seeks to transcend all. Ivan


Bene Diction 06.29.04 at 8:50 am

Actually since Canadians live in 8 very distinct geographical regions, studies have been done about this in Canada.
You are on to something here Richard.:^)


mr skin 10.24.06 at 2:35 am

Catherine’s so hot, but so annoying on those Tmobile commercials!

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