The good thing is that a lot of people agree that the problems with development in different sub-Saharan African countries are very similar. Unlike some people who think institutions¹ are the primary problem with economic development in sub-saharan Africa, if you agree that culture² is the fundamental problem, then the culture needs to be evolved into something more desirable.
1. Acemoglu doesn’t dig deeply enough. What makes up institutions, creates them in the first place, or has the ability to influence them?
Institutions run on culture set by the most stubborn, most dominant crop(s) of the population, whether they be in the minority (Cc Nassim Taleb’s Intolerant Minority) or majority.
Stubborn, dominant people —> culture —> institutions —> ‘fate’.
2. “The first thing to understand about humanity is that most human beings have very little character. They have minimal moral motivation, and weak internal motivations in general. They are easily swayed by circumstances, especially by people around them. So the reason why your neighbor doesn’t grab your wallet or punch you in the face when you annoy him is not that it would be wrong to do so. The reason is that it’s against the social norms — he doesn’t see other people doing that, he knows that other people would disapprove of it, and society might punish such behavior. That’s really the main reason.
People’s allegiance to social norms is emotional, not intellectual. They just feel like they have to follow the norms. So they’re not very subtle about it — e.g., people aren’t very good at distinguishing good social norms from bad ones. Also, some of the norms are vague and general, like “Treat people with a certain level of respect, even when you disagree with them.”
The most valuable thing that America has — the thing that makes things go better in innumerable ways than the way they go in 99% of other societies — is not its wealth, nor its particular laws and policies, nor even its Constitution. The most valuable thing is a set of norms and institutions that managed to take hold and become stable. Or at least metastable.
How Norms Erode
Social norms can be eroded. The way they get eroded is essentially by visible norm-violations that are visibly tolerated. If you see other people around you flagrantly violating the (erstwhile) social norms, and if nothing happens to those people, or maybe they are even rewarded for their behavior, then your feeling that you have to follow social norms diminishes. You start to feel like maybe you’re living in a free-for-all zone and you can do whatever the hell you feel like. Unfortunately, what most people feel like doing is not good.”
One of the several ways to begin to work on evolving culture is discussion: simply talking about things. There needs to be a local public discussion platform on which people with interesting thoughts around these parts can have conversations.
An asynchronous (no pressure, allows people to get involved if and only when they want to), text-based (efficient, allows optimal, refined structuring of thought), online (the internet kills geographical constraint) forum. Twitter fulfills these needs except one, which is a big flaw for a certain kind of community: centralization. Twitter conversations are scattered and difficult to follow, have no structure or moderation to them, or an effective archiving.
Something like this needs to exist for several reasons:
(i) Poor intellectual thought in the first place means people of decent intellectual thought are sparse. The only possible meeting point is via the internet.
(ii) Widespread poor culture including anti-intellectualism means attempting to understand and do better/differently is strongly discouraged. Conservatism in this sense doesn’t only exist on this front. It pervades all aspects of life. People need visible local platforms so that it becomes clear that it is fine to not default-align with the poor convention.
(iii) People of decent intellectual thought already participate on global discussion platforms. But there’s something to be benefited from conversations with people with similar in-person experiences as you; maybe they spark ideas on how to solve mutual problems?