Kinship, modernism and Donald Trump
Kinship-based societies are based around extended family relationships. They transmit learning and beliefs vertically, from elders to children. They may limit women’s rights, and have larger families. These societies meet kin obligations, yet may permit cheating of out-group members and mandate tax evasion and benefit fraud.
Kinship-based societies dominate in tribal regions, and can be powerful in non-tribal ones. Some scholars such as Edward Banfield attributed Southern Italy’s underdevelopment to “amoral familism” that focuses narrowly on family interests, and assumes others do the same. This leaves little space for social capital and non-kin collective projects.
Modernist societies value individual advancement and meritocracy. They are typically urbanised, engaged with international trade, and they learn horizontally from non-kin sources. Women have rights, and are likely to participate in the paid workforce. Modernist societies have small families, and invest heavily in individual children.
Urbanisation, IT and mass media make it easier to learn from non-relatives, and for horizontal cultural transmission to occur. Famously, TV soap operas depicting modernist lifestyles led to reduced fertility rates in Brazilian favelas communities.
Humanistic principles, civil society, moral codes, and secular institutions underpin modernist societies. Taxes are moral as well as legal obligations, to deliver shared public services, and to socially mitigate individual risks. Modernism dominates in regions such as East Asia, Western Europe and North America.
America is a modernist society, yet it has a kinship-based President. Donald Trump is a product of kin influences from his grandfather and father, and ideation from sources such as Fox News. He is a kinship-based, amoral family leader, misplaced within a modernist society.
Donald Trump came to power with the support of a Republican Party tribally visceral in its hostility to out-groups. He made his money from inheritance, asset management, real estate price inflation and amoral business ruthlessness. He created no new technology, innovation or idea. None of his investments deliver wider social benefits. Trump Tower and his golf courses will survive him as artefacts. Nothing he created will be a platform for future enduring benefits.
Kinship-based societies are poor partly because they under-deliver social innovations. Such innovations deliver non-rival benefits that spill-over wider than those which can be captured by individuals and kin. They persist longer than an individual’s lifetime, and are building blocks for future innovation.
Social innovation sparks future innovation that transcends individual and kin-based interests. It underpins ongoing human creativity, technological development and higher civilisation.
Paradoxically, it is “individualistic” modernist societies that deliver social innovation, yet such innovation requires feelings for others and magnanimous spirit.
America’s constitutional protections are constraining President Trump. However, it is American generosity of mind and intellectual unboundedness that will end his presidency. America can then once again become the leader of the modernist world.