Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Mexican fatalism

I don't tap into the World Values Survey nearly as often as I'd ideally like to because it's more difficult to trust than the GSS is. Sometimes the problems are apparently just coding errors, but often the issues involve representative sampling (or the lack thereof), confusion in translation, or something else. Exacerbating this challenge, it's tougher for me to use my intuition as a first approximation of whether or not the results are flawed when the comparisons are between Slovenia and Andorra than when they're between Kansas and New York because I'm merely a citizen of the US, not of the world.

That said, Steve Sailer recently recounted the following childhood experience from Mexico:
Having traveled a modest amount in Mexico with my father when I was young, it seemed like a not badly behaved place. Mexico under the PRI was a police state, although only a small fraction of the large number of policemen were efficient and formidable. The populace was fairly cowed and meek, at least when sober. Bad driving and accidents were a major problem (presumably originating in Mexican fatalism), and petty graft was an annoyance, but outright crime wasn't a major problem for tourists.
People enjoying relatively high socio-economic status tend to be less fatalistic than people on lower rungs of the ladder do, and I suspect this pattern would manifest itself at the national level, but being the parochial guy that I am, I wasn't aware of Mexicans being particularly fatalistic.

The WVS (fourth wave) offers some potential insight into the question. The following table ranks the participating countries by how much control over their lives respondents in those countries feel they have. The higher the self-determination score, the less fatalistic the country is:

1. Mexico
2. Colombia
3. Argentina, New Zealand, Trinidad/Tobago
4. Sweden, Uruguay
5. Norway, Brazil, Andorra
6. United States, Canada, South Africa, Australia, Switzerland, Romania, Jordan
7. Finland, Slovenia, Cyprus, Guatemala
8. Turkey, Indonesia
9. Great Britain, Taiwan, Malaysia
10. Chile, China, Zambia
11. Peru, Ghana, Vietnam, Iran
12. Russia
13. Spain, Moldova, Thailand
14. Germany
15. France, the Netherlands, South Korea
16. Poland
17. Serbia, Rwanda
18. Georgia
19. Italy, Hong Kong
20. Ethiopia
21. Japan, Egypt, Mali
22. India, Ukraine
23. Bulgaria
24. Burkina Faso
25. Iraq
26. Morocco

With Egypt, Mali, Iraq, and Morocco at the bottom of the list, at first blush it appears that Muslim countries are more fatalistic than non-Muslim countries are, in accordance with the thesis put forth by the late Samuel Huntington. However, Turkey, Jordan, and Indonesia are among countries where the greatest levels of self-determination are perceived, in conflict with that observation.

The Anglophone nations are all bunched pretty close to one another, with the three largest British offshoots having the same self-determination scores. Along with Scandanavia, these countries are less fatalistic than eastern and southern European countries are.

One standard deviation is 2.3 self-determination points, so the gap between Morocco and Mexico is almost 1.5 standard deviations wide, suggesting that the average Moroccan is more fatalistic than over 90% of Mexicans are. That revelation stuns me, and I have no idea how accurately it reflects reality (see the opening paragraph!). Given that Steve has the opposite impression of Mexico, I'll withhold judgment. There does appear to be some geographical consistency with regards to Mexico, though--the other Latin American countries represented cluster near the top of the list as well. Peru is the most fatalistic country to our south, and it's in the middle of the pack.

Let's look a little closer to home. The GSS queried respondents on something similar in 2008, asking them to state whether or not they agreed with the statement that "there is little that people can do to change the course of their lives". Again, the higher the score, the less fatalistic and more self-determinative the group is (n = 1,356):


One standard deviation is 1.01 points, so the difference between whites and Hispanics is substantial, with Hispanics being considerably more fatalistic than other Americans are. Perhaps self-determination is one of the few things that does stop at the Rio Grande. Or maybe Steve is correct and the WVS is once again shown not to be very useful. In Sailer and GSS v. the WVS, my money is on the plaintiffs!

WVS variables used: V46 (excluding DK/NA)

GSS variables used: RACECEN1(1)(2)(4-10)(15-16), FATALISM


An Unmarried Man said...

Perhaps fatalism is definable on 2 planes. The higher plane is the more theoretical/philosophical query: can we steer our own destiny?

On the lower, utilitarian plane of self-interest where most people live, fatalism is defined: can I get a break in edgewise around here? This fatalism is malleable. It reflects one's economic station in society. Most people dwell here. People are not generally philosophical.

This would explain the lack of fatalism in native Mexicans who do not experience cultural and economic marginalization in the homeland. Coming to the US, they suddenly find themselves in the big prosperous, competitive pond and suddenly their mundane sense of fatalism takes a tumble.

Mexicans are much happier in Mexico.

Audacious Epigone said...

Both questions are phrased in a way that doesn't specifically denote an abstract, philosophical flavoring to the question, so that's conceivable. And interesting, anyway.

Anonymous said...

Man, I am seing like, no correlation to anything.

Steve Sailer said...

A better way to measure fatalism than self-evaluation would be by accident rates.

For example, I can recall a taxicab ride through Guadaljara in 1967 at night where the driver just floored it through each stoplightless intersection and honked his horn. The horn blowing is not fatalistic, but the risking death to several dozen times on one fairly short trip was.

Similarly, my recollection of Mexico City in 1975 was that there were only a handful of stoplights in the entire downtown.

Jorge Castaneda's new book on Mexico says that the Mexican government should put in more American-style stoplights, which would attract more American retirees. And it would be good for Mexicans, too.

I'm sure that Mexico isn't as heedless about traffic safety as a generation ago, but evidently it's still pretty bad.

bjdubbs said...

This is an interesting paradox. Let's say (for the sake of argument) that the prototypical Mexican is a peasant farmer. As a farmer, he divides the world into the things he can control (running his farm) and the things he can't (the weather) or don't affect him (politics, quantum physics). The opposite of the peasant farmer is the city dweller who doesn't much bother with either his own plot of land (if he has one) or the weather, but lives a life of in/dependence. So the high level of SD among Mexicans is compatible with a high level of political apathy and natural fatalism if you recognize that Mexicans make a sharp distinction between things that can be controlled and the things that can't. (I think The Inductivist had a post about high levels of nihilism among farmers, which may be another form of weather fatalism).