Most people engage in extensive compartmentalization. They have certain beliefs in one part of their mind, and they don’t allow those beliefs to propagate to other parts of their mind. A classic example is a person who’s able to think scientifically, but refuses to apply their scientific patterns of thought to their religious beliefs. If you try to dissect their religious beliefs with logic and show them they’re irrational, they’ll put up a wall. Your arguments will do nothing to them.
I used to think compartmentalization was an error. After all, it’s illogical to hold two mutually contradictory beliefs. But then I realized that people compartmentalize their minds for the same reason people compartmentalize ships. If a ship’s hull is made up of many watertight compartments, then even a large leak poses little risk of the ship sinking. Seawater floods one compartment, but the ship remains buoyant.
Basically, a compartmentalized mind is a low-risk low-reward strategy, while a decompartmentalized mind is a high-risk high-reward strategy. When your mind is composed of many segregated sections, the benefits of any given epiphany are limited, but the harm from an incorrect idea is also limited in the same way. On the other hand, when you insist up taking all of your insights and using logic to propagate them throughout your entire web of belief, you’ll stand to gain much more from any given idea, but you’ll also stand to lose much more. Without compartments, any new belief will flood your entire mind. If the belief is a mind virus that got past your initial firewall, then you’re in deep trouble. The belief is now free to wreak havoc on every part of your mind.
When I still thought that compartmentalization was an error, I was also active in the Austrian economics community as a person who sympathized with anti-Statism. At the same time, I was working on a project to design the seed for a visual language that could evolve into an international system of precise communication. It would bridge the gap between very different worldviews and very different cultures. Both economically and linguistically, I wanted to usher in a fully integrated world. Without States we would no longer have the geographical borders that control the movement of people, and with an international visual language we could get past the linguistic barriers that control the flow of information.
In such a world, even the sharp distinctions between natural languages would begin to break down. It’s Statism that’s created these linguistic compartments. Before the rise of the nation State, we didn’t have Portuguese, Spanish, French, and Italian. We had a dialect continuum that ran through Europe, where you could talk to your neighbors but not people hundreds of miles away. States use the apparatus of compulsory education to unify the language of a people and differentiate it from the language of outsiders.
It was only after I realized that compartmentalization isn’t necessarily an error that I opened my mind to the possibility that fully integrating society economically and linguistically wouldn’t necessarily be a good idea. And then when I lived in Japan for a few years, I realized that there are a lot of things I love about Japan that would probably disappear under a fully decentralized global order with unobstructed international flow of information. Statism produces compartmentalization on a macro scale.
People often talk about how flawed English education is in Japan. Students spend 10 years studying English, and once it’s all said and done they can barely have a conversation. There are debates about how to best reform the educational system so Japanese people can learn English more effectively.
But this all misses the point. If the Japanese actually wanted their children to learn how to speak English at a high level, they would simply install immersion programs. From the start of kindergarten to the end of college, children would have one class per day where the teacher is a native English speaker, the class is conducted entirely in English, and there’s a rule that the students must speak English even to each other. The fact that they don’t do this is intentional. It would open the floodgates to Western influence. Japanese children would grow up on a steady diet of Western news, movies, and memes. Japanese culture would begin to dissolve.
While a stateless world would be fully decompartmentalized, a world full of ethnostates would be fully compartmentalized. A stateless civilization is integrated, and a system of ethnostates is segregated. Western multiculturalism is somewhere in the middle.
Psychologically speaking, an individual can segregate beliefs (like keeping religion and science separate), or they can integrate them (such as by allowing the scientific part of their mind talk to the religious part). When a person segregates two system of belief from each other, they preserve both systems in an autonomous state. On the other hand, when they integrate two systems, either one system destroys the other, or the two systems fuse into one. When people integrate religion and science, it’s common for the religion to break down and the science to prevail. Some people, however, manage to integrate the two without losing either. Jordan Peterson’s fame seems to rest on his ability to rescue religious thought within a scientific framework.
It’s important to note, though, that you can’t simply choose to segregate two parts of your mind and then be done with it. You need a strategy that’s psychologically viable. You need a practical way of creating different compartments in your mind.
For example, consider that the Amish use three separate languages: Pennsylvania Dutch, English, and Standard German. They use Pennsylvania Dutch in social and religious settings which only involve Amish people. English, by contrast, is used for most reading and writing. It’s also the medium of instruction in school, the language of business, and the medium of communication in social setting involving non-Amish people. Finally, Standard German is used for payer and song at church services. In other words, they have three separate languages with three separate functions. The domains of usage are sharply separated.
This sociolinguistic landscape makes it natural for them to create separate modes of thought and action, where they’re less likely than monolingual people to propagate new ideas throughout their whole web of belief. Segregating different spheres of thought and action into different languages controls the flow of information in their minds.
While it may seem more logical to always update all of your old beliefs in light of new evidence, this is actually a dangerous habit. Sometimes what you see as a new insight is actually an incorrect conclusion, and in such a situation a fully integrated mind is trouble. The incorrect conclusion flows unobstructed into every corner of your mind, polluting everything it touches. On the other hand, a compartmentalized mind has a system of dams and channels, where certain routes are closed off and others are open.
The Amish can read English, but it doesn’t corrupt their culture because what they read in English doesn’t propagate to the social or religious part of their mind. English is for them the world of school, business, and outsiders, while Pennsylvania Dutch is a whole different world. It’s the world of friends, family, and religion. These two worlds don’t talk to each other all that much, and for good reason. If Amish culture didn’t run this carefully delineated system of linguistic compartmentalization, the Amish probably would have disappeared by now as a distinct people with distinct traditions. With no systems set up to quarantine outside influence, they would have been integrated into the mainstream of American culture. But cultural evolution has equipped them with a formidable firewall. Thus they number over 300,000 in the United States.
Besides using different languages for different purposes, there are countless methods that people use to trigger separate modes in themselves. For example, wearing a suit and tie, drinking coffee, and writing with formal wording may trigger your careful work mode, while wearing jeans and a T-shirt, drinking beer, and speaking with informal language could put you in a loose social headspace.
When you remove these behavioral triggers, you destroy the psychological basis for compartmentalization. And since the end of the World Wars, the West has been on a mission to do just that.
A recent example is the movement to merge written and spoken language. A lot of software that used to say something like: “The installation process has been completed.” Now states something like: “Howdy there, glad you made it to the end!” And of course the companies which write software like that are often also the companies which let you show up to work in jeans and a T-shirt.
When formal and informal situations alike are conducted in the same casual language, you remove a switch which people traditionally used to trigger either a more careful or a more loose style of thought and action. And when you wear the same clothes to work that you wear when you hang out with your friends, you remove another trigger. When the distinction between formal and informal starts to dissolve both linguistically and culturally, you lose two of the traditional psychological footholds for code switching from how you think and act at work or school, to how you think and act outside of work or school. You cut out part of the psychological foundation for segregating those two modes from each other. You cause more integration between your different selves.
Overall, the modern trend in the West is to throw everything into the same pile, both psychologically and sociologically. The orderly partitioning of traditional Western culture has given way for the chaotic decompartmentalization of modern Western trends, on both the micro and macro level.
Religion is analyzed as if it’s a scientific hypothesis about the origin of the universe, and it breaks down under this strange form of pressure. Arguing that it’s best to write like you talk is considered a serious suggestion. All sorts of institutions relax their dress codes, lest they’re perceived as stuffy conservatives. Suggesting that certain foods are more fitting for a man and others for a woman is suddenly received as backwards. Whites, blacks, and every other race are thrown together, both metaphorically and literally. Racial differences are now seen as merely skin deep, and people have a change of heart about racial segregation. Traditional Western ethnostatism is replaced by modern Western multiculturalism.
By contrast, the Japanese are meticulous about putting things in their proper place, again both psychologically and sociologically. Segregative thinking and practices prevail over integrative thinking and practices.
The Japanese don’t conceptualize their traditions as religious in nature, and thus it’s easier for those traditions to exist next to but separate from science. There are sharper distinctions between the way you’re supposed to write or speak in any given context, and this reflects the more clearly defined hierarchical structure. Dress codes at work and school are stricter and more well-defined. They still happily peg foods as masculine or feminine. They have no issues making generalizations based on race, and they see it as natural for certain geographical areas to belong to certain races and others to belong to other races. To them racial differences pierce much deeper than just skin color, and it’s not uncommon for them to pass judgment on the general quality of a people. Traditional ethnostatism remains the norm, and the Japanese don’t want anything to do with modern multiculturalism.
When analyzing how society works on a macro scale, it’s important to understand how people think on a micro scale. The sociological structure manifested in a society is a direct outgrowth of the psychological structures of the people making up the society. From psychological analysis is born sociological analysis.
If the average individual in a society tends to have a more compartmentalized mind, then the society itself is going to be more compartmentalized. When asking why the Japanese prefer ethnostatism and the West prefers multiculturalism, it’s best to look at how the individuals themselves think, and then draw implications about how that kind of cognitive architecture would manifest on a sociological scale.