COVID-19 & Culture

By Shlomo Maital

   All over the world, nations are undergoing lockdown – or versions of it, “shelter at home’ (a term used in the US for what you do when a possible tornado or hurricane threatens), quarantine (a French word for ‘40’, based on the 40 days people were closed off during plague), or even curfew.

   It does seem that nations where quarantine was earliest, and most heeded, did the best. Places or countries that heeded quarantine the least and latest did worst.

   In Israel, COVID-19 afflicts heavily the ultra-Orthodox, partly because in early March Purim celebrations brought masses of them together and spread the plague.

     In Wuhan a 70-day lockdown, rigidly enforced, seems to have done the trick.

     In Michele Gelfand’s new book (she is a professor at U. of Maryland), the difference between countries with rule breakers and rule makers is explored. This is highly relevant for our coronavirus dilemma.

     Brazilians are rule breakers. Society is “loose” and relaxed. So is Israel. Try driving on our roads and highways. Rules here are made to be broken.  This is somewhat strange, because countries that have lived under threat, invasion and natural disasters tend to be rule making and rule observing (Japan!).  Not Israel.

     Singapore is a rule maker. Don’t bring 200 packages of gum into the country. Don’t toss your old gum onto the street. You get fined. Singapore has handled the plague very well. So has South Korea, a rule maker society.  Brazil’s new President seems to ignore it.

       In Israel, the virus is reaching its apex, roughly around today. A severe police-enforced lockdown was declared just before Passover, because families in Israel always get together to observe and celebrate it. So police set up roadblocks and levied heavy fines, for those trying to travel. In rule breaking nations, to enforce a rule you really do need the police and fines, and even the Army (used in ultra-orthodox areas in Israel).

     Is your country a rule maker or a rule breaker? And how is it dealing with the lockdown? Will it change the culture of your country? Will it become more submissive – or return to its old loose ways soon after?

New York City residents are definitely rule breakers. But strenuous efforts have kept them mainly locked down.  In the southern parts of the US, political leaders seem to have barely even tried.

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“Rule Makers, Rule Breakers provides an extremely insightful and increasingly important understanding of human cultures. It distills years of scientific research on the cultural differences in the strength of social norms, or tightness-looseness, in a cohesive and engaging way and shows how it informs politics, class differences, workplaces, and other facets of our world. Even more importantly, it shows how this cultural difference springs from the presence (or absence) of environmental instability and threat. If you’ve ever wondered why some cultural groups are so lax while others are so stringent or why working-class parents often tend to be stricter than middle-class parents, this book holds the answers. Ultimately, the best part of this book is that it provides a cohesive and informative framework for interpreting world events and human behavior that will prove useful for years to come. If you enjoyed Guns, Germs, and Steel or have an appreciation for the topics of social science, history, psychology, or culture, you’ll love this book”.

from an Amazon review