What do you get if you cross renegade psychoanalyst Carl Jung with lizard-men conspiracist David Icke? It is a question no one in their right mind would ask, but this book represents a kind of answer anyway. Offering a rambling pseudoscientific argument that some countries are better than others at enabling their citizens to flourish, it affects to have uncovered archetypes of the Jungian ‘collective unconscious’ that are characteristic of each nation. Meanwhile, cultures get a gold star if they indulge, rather than repress, the ‘reptilian’ part of our brains, which is mainly interested in food and sex, as opposed to the ‘limbic’ brain (emotions) and the cortex (higher reasoning). As the authors repeatedly insist, ‘The reptilian always wins.’ David Icke would agree, as would fans of Godzilla movies.
What are some of the key revelations here about national differences? I’m glad you asked. Scandinavians, it turns out, are artistically creative and also have a lot of sex ‘in their basements’, but ‘they are not very affectionate’. The Japanese repress the ‘reptilian’ too much and so ‘can […] be very violent’. ‘American men,’ we learn, ‘just want to watch their Sunday night football with a beer in one hand and the remote control in the other.’ Meanwhile, the French are all artists and philosophers who think that ‘having money is bad’.
It’s a good job the authors have uncovered these cultural archetypes through rigorous research — including ‘studying seduction for L’Oréal’ (one of the authors is a ‘marketing expert’), and employing the modestly named ‘Rapaille Discovery Approach’, described in an appendix, which encourages participants to lie down on the floor and free-associate. Otherwise, we might have been fed a ridiculous list of clichéd national stereotypes.
In the end, global survey data and the authors’ own pseudo-facts are put into a blender with some made-up formulae in order to construct an ‘index’ that ranks 71 countries according to how much they help people to ‘move up’, or achieve success — which is here assumed to be almost exclusively financial. It turns out it is better to live in China than in Italy, and in Singapore rather than France. Luckily, ‘everybody is moving away’ from France, so their cheese-eating, money-hating culture will presumably just die out.
Not content with ranking whole cultures, the book also offers some ambitious theories about what on earth women might be like. ‘Men and women belong to different genders which are truly disparate,’ the authors insist sternly at the outset. ‘Women are the gatekeepers,’ we then learn, ‘protecting their uterus from unwanted suitors.’ At length it is revealed that ‘Women have a tendency to wait. This is their biology. The egg waits while the sperm moves.’ So women are basically massive stationary eggs. This certainly cleared up a lot of questions I had.
Sometimes this book reads as though a nonsensical torrent of random words had, by the infinite-monkeys-composing-the-complete-works-of-Shakespeare mechanism, suddenly organised itself into a limpid statement of perfectly focused falsehood. ‘Like the internet,’ the authors announce, ‘the cortex requires little energy.’ One does hate to be pedantic, but the human cerebral cortex is the largest part of the brain, the activity of which requires up to 25 per cent of the body’s total energy budget; and the internet runs on millions of power-hungry computers and data centres.
Mostly, though, the authors proceed as though writing for an expected audience of particularly ignorant Martians. ‘European history has been wrought by invasions,’ they explain. ‘The end result is ultimately devastating and detrimental to people’s survival.’ This seems to mean that wars tend to kill people. I could go on; they certainly do.
As a busy reviewer, one does tend to read a lot of mediocre books. But it’s been a long time since I’ve seen such a manifestly risible work put out by a reputable publishing house. If Jeremy Clarkson wrote a work of comparative cultural analysis, it would be no less reliable as scholarship. But it would definitely be a hell of a lot funnier.
Available from the Spectator Bookshop, £13.99. Tel: 08430 600033. Steven Poole is the author of Unspeak and Who Touched Base in My Thought Shower?