Hinting at the heart of the matter

In my new search for answers to some of the more fundamental disparities that seem to exist between my old home and my new one, a couple of articles in different versions of the Economist grabbed my eye this week that I thought I would share with you.

The first was a piece in the regular Economist discussing a recent study in Nature which showed a positive correlation between prosperity and fairness within a society. By taking a sample of indigenous communities across the world, they were able to demonstrate that the more ‘fair’ a society was, the greater the chance that they had also attained economic prosperity. Interestingly they also found a positive link between the amount of ‘fairness’ within a society and the strength of world religion in that society.

Both of these findings are interesting to consider from the prism of a what could argued to be a highly ‘unfair’ Zambian society where a small minority live very comfortable lives at the expense of the majority who merely subsist in abject poverty. This seems to be as true of the traditional tribal/rural past as it of the modern/industrial parts of the country. So far then the theory seems to hold, yet Zambia suffers from this lack of fairness and consequent market integration despite being an avowedly Christian nation.

Which leads me to my second article, a book review on the blog the Zambian Economist. The book, Glimmers of Hope is by a volunteer who spent two years teaching in rural Zambia. I haven’t had a chance to pick up the book yet and determine whether my hopes of pitching a unique book deal to publishers are dashed forever, but what I found interesting was the discussion the Zambian reviewer chose to focus upon.

Both he and the author point out that though the country makes a very big deal about being a ‘Christian nation’, many of the behaviours that keep the country in the state its in are deeply un-Christian – be it corruption when it comes to financial matters or infedility when it comes to the spread of HIV and AIDS. It is as if the inability to admit that these issues exist in a supposedly Christian society is as much of an obstacle to progress as the issue itself, something you could certainly see in the awkward if not unhelpful approach that many churches had to discussing infedility and the use of condoms when it came to HIV prevention.

Now I find myself in avowedly post-religous Scandinavia where like most of Western Europe the churches are pretty but empty. Yet the moral code of fairness seems to have been strongly embedded in peoples behaviours (and certainly their willingness to pay taxes!) and with it high levels of prosperity.

Perhaps the pithy sub-title from the Economist put it best: It is not so much that cheats don’t prosper, but that prosperity does not cheat. As for the role of religion in all of that, as much help as hinderence I would say!

One Response to “Hinting at the heart of the matter”
  1. Stefan says:

    Have thoroughly enjoyed reading your blog silently during your time in Zambia, and it’s a fascinating account you have been giving of your experiences. Now that you’ve moved to Copenhagen I for some reason am inclined to comment on this post 🙂 I believe that even though Scandinavia may seem post-religious as you write, still a very very large part of the population (at least in Sweden) belong passively to the formerly state-connected protestant church. I think even though most folks don’t actively participate in religious ceremonies, there is an engrained behaviour, I think you’re right. And if you haven’t come across it yet, don’t forget the Scandinavian (of Danish origin) Law of Jante, which states that you shouldn’t think you’re better than anyone else. Which may actually in a strange turn of events also lead to fairness…

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