Culture and Peace: why Can’t We All Get Along?

Culture and Peace: Why Can’t We All Get Along?

By Fernando Lanzer


Every world leader and every beauty pageant contestant will say that they want “World Peace;” so, why is it that humans engaged in wars throughout history and continue to do so in the 21st Century, an era that has been heralded as “the dawning of the Age of Aquarius”, a time of harmony and understanding, sympathy and trust abounding? From a cultural values perspective, the explanation lies in analyzing which cultures foster confrontation, the acceptance of conflict, and the promotion of performance to the detriment of caring and quality of life. It is plain to see that some cultural values are drivers of peace, while other values push in the opposite direction. The different World Views that Sigmund Freud called Weltanschauung and Huib Wursten identified as the Seven Worldviews of national cultures can help us understand the influence of cultural values in getting some countries involved in wars more frequently than others. 

Key words: Culture; War; Peace; Worldviews.


Yuval Noah Harari tells us that people go to war because of the stories they believe in (1). Stories are an expression of culture and of its core values. So, which kinds of cultures are most likely to engage in war? What are the core stories, or narratives, that underlie the Seven Worldviews of national identified by Huib Wursten (2) and how do they relate to war and peace?

The Contest Culture Conundrum

The Contest culture’s primary worldview is that life is a never-ending series of competitions, from which winners and losers will emerge. The competitions are framed as a constant clash between two opposing forces. From this clash something positive results.

Therefore, confrontation is encouraged as a way to face and manage conflict. The consequence is that Contest cultures can easily escalate disagreements to the point of seeking solutions by force and/or military interventions. This is often expressed in films that show diplomats as weak, while the heroes are portrayed as people who fight and beat the enemies. Diplomats are shown as naïve individuals who get in the way of the real solution, which is for the heroes to step in and fight their way to victory.

The Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to the European Union in 2012, for six decades of work in advancing peace in Europe.

The New York Times was not impressed. They called the award “a gift” rather than a deserved prize, and criticized the EU for “inept management of the Euro zone crisis.” In American TV, the Nobel Peace prize has been humorously referred to as “not a real Nobel Prize,” when compared to achievements in science. 

The American press had also not been impressed when the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to President Obama earlier, in 2009. Apparently pundits felt that he had not really done anything significant to deserve it. Contest cultures (US, UK, Australia, Canada, and New Zealand) have a bias for action; they value seeing people doing something concrete and specific, providing a tangible result, in order to deserve praise.

In this sense, we can already see Contest culture values at odds with the concept of peace. To Contest culture populations, going to war is a clear action; fighting is an action, whether between individuals or between nations. But what is peace? Is it defined by a non-action, such as not going to war, or not fighting? The act of not doing something does not sit well in cultures that seek to promote and reward action.

Contest culture values such as standing up for your values and confronting those with opposing views can be quite easily endorsed almost universally; but there can always be too much of a good thing. Confrontation can escalate; and if that continues, it can lead to war. 

Looking at the world as a constant clash between two opposing forces can also lead to oversimplification of geopolitics. The American president George W. Bush gave other countries an ultimatum when the US decided to invade Iraq in early 2003: “you are either with us, or against us!” By doing so, he immediately sabotaged any attempt to de-escalate the situation and shut the door on diplomacy. He also failed to acknowledge the complexity of international relations in the 21st Century, when economies are much more interdependent than ever before. As Bush made that statement, other Contest cultures immediately sided with that stance: the UK, Canada and Australia formed what was called “a coalition of the willing” to declare war against Iraq, defying the United Nations and many European nations who were hesitating about engaging in military action. The French were labeled as traitors and there were calls in America to boycott France, its culture and products, culminating with stopping all reference to “French fries” and starting to call them “freedom fries.” These manifestations of American popular culture are the visible part of the culture iceberg. The invisible portion of that iceberg consists of values advocating the use of force to make a point.

When your worldview contains a filter that sees potential confrontations anywhere and everywhere, mass paranoia is not that far away. As Reznal Odnanrev (4) has mentioned in a presentation made at the Global Forum on Action Learning (Shanghai, 2007), “America needs an enemy; and it they cannot find one, they might invent one!”

It’s plain to see that Contest culture values can easily lead to war. When confrontation and competition are the core concepts driving behavior, diplomacy and de-escalation are not a priority. The challenge for Contest cultures is actually to stay out of trouble; avoiding conflict is something that goes against their core values.

Of course, culture is not the only factor driving war and peace; there are economic considerations as well. But when a specific type of worldview fosters confrontation and conflict, it determines in which ways different nations pursue their economic interests.

It’s the economy, stupid!

A popular view is that wars happen due to the pursuit of economic interests. According to this perspective, wars will always be about territory and the resources available there. To this point, Mahatma Gandhi has remarked out that “there are enough resources for everyone’s need; but not enough for everyone’s greed.” So, the problem with greater weight is values, rather than the resources themselves.

Another view is that nations fight each other not only for resources, but also for markets. This notion is embedded in the concept of “nation-building,” which also supported the US invasion of both Iraq and Afghanistan. In addition to gaining access to natural resources in these countries, building them up as nations would mean opening markets that could become heavy buyers of products and services provided by other lands.

Yet there is still another market: when the market is war itself. Fighters need arms. In any war, arms manufacturers become the first winners, regardless of the outcome. Plus, the outbreak of war immediately spreads fear across the world and increases the demand for arms in countries who fear that they might be attacked.

Arms manufacturers are market makers. They foster conflict anywhere, in order to generate demand.

When Donald Trump threatens to lead the United States to leave NATO and “let Europe defend itself on its own,” he is basically creating demand for arms in Europe. When he insists that European countries should spend at least 2% of GDP on defense, he is also creating demand for arms. And he is being supported in his actions by Contest culture values.

These war-endorsing values are not only the confrontation-friendly attitude. They include, in addition, the glorification of war through cultural expressions such as films and TV, where tales abound showcasing war heroes and their heroic feats.

High scores in Performance Orientation (or Masculinity) also tend to stoke the fires of war rather than the calm of peace. All Contest cultures have high scores in this dimension.

The Fifth Dimension

The Seven Worldviews created by Wursten consider the first four value dimensions identified by Hofstede: Power Distance (PDI), Individualism (IDV), Performance Orientation (PER, or MAS in Hofstede’s original label), and Uncertainty Avoidance (UAI). We can also consider the fifth dimension, Relativism (REL, or LTO in Hofstede’s original nomenclature), identified by Michael Harris Bond (5), as an additional influencing factor.

All Contest cultures score low on the Fifth Dimension; this means they value discipline, rather than flexibility; they favor a short-term perspective instead of a long-term perspective; and that they are normative, rather than relativistic. 

The link to war is that normative cultures take social standards and values very seriously, to the point of developing social movements such as Political Correctness and Cancel Culture. This leads to a cultural attitude of less tolerance towards social norms that are different from yours. In Contest Cultures, since they are egalitarian and individualistic, there tends to be less tolerance towards countries that have hierarchical (perceived as authoritarian), and collectivist cultures. This translates into “we should make that country democratic, whether they like it or not!” Sadly, this is used as a righteous way of justifying war, in order to “defend freedom and our (American) way of life.” This has been used to support every American and British military engagement in the past 200 years.

We need to talk about China

Looking at other cultural worldviews, we can see different approaches to war and peace.

It is interesting to see that China (a Traditional Family type of culture), labeled by American Governments as “the enemy” (taking turns with Russia, North Korea, and even Europe during the Trump Administration), adopts an approach consistent with the Traditional Family type of worldview. It is an approach summarized in Sun Tzu’s “The Art of War” (3), which in summary includes intimidating opponents while avoiding an open conflict.

The Chinese worldview also includes the highest-scoring Long-Term Orientation on the planet. While Contest cultures tend to value thinking in quarters, Family cultures tend to think in decades. A popular view in the Chinese culture is that China will eventually dominate the world; not by waging war on other countries, but simply by its sheer size and the perceived superiority of its culture values. And when the Chinese say “eventually,” they mean decades. The culture encourages them to be patient and to expect that dominance might come in a century, rather than in the next three years.

This is not to say that the Chinese do not invest in arms; of course they do. But the values behind it are of intimidating potential enemies, without having to actually engage in an open conflict.

It is important to note that the US, UK and Australia have adopted a major shift in foreign policy when addressing their political and economic relationship with the Chinese during the Biden Administration.

While the period from 2010 to 2020 was characterized by an attempt to compete with China in commercial and non-confrontational terms, it seems that in this decade these countries reassessed their position and shifted to a more confrontational stance, more coherent with Contest values. 

Perhaps they realized that they would lose the competition with China in the long run, unless they moved to a more confronting discourse. It is quite visible that the statements made by pundits in the media and the ones made by political leaders have shifted to criticizing the Chinese at every opportunity and describing their efforts as ineffective and misguided.

The Chinese, in turn, have maintained their policies focused on the long-term perspective they have always had, trusting that they can emerge victorious without needing to engage in an actual war. They are likely to maintain that stance in the coming years, since they are the highest-scoring culture in the Fifth Dimension.

In Brazil, a Social Pyramid Culture (hierarchical and collectivistic), there is a saying that goes: “quando um não quer, dois não brigam.” A rough translation is that “when one of them doesn’t want it, two people won’t fight.” President Lula used this expression recently in reference to the war in Ukraine, trying to say that the war continues because both sides want it to continue, instead of seeking some kind of truce or peace agreement.

The challenge for Contest Cultures is typically to step away from the natural confrontation stance, or a “win-lose” attitude, in order to negotiate a compromise for peace.

More Europe, or less Europe?

Angela Merkel reiterated that question several times at the end of her mandate, and the debate continues. The challenge for Europe, from a cultural perspective, will be to manage its own diversity while seeking greater unity in terms of dealing with war and peace. It has managed well to avoid a major open conflict within the European Union, but it will need to do better regarding coping with conflicts beyond its borders, notably concerning Russia.

The realpolitik with Russia seemed to be working well, until American activism upset the delicate balance in the Europe-Russia pas de deux and the conflict in Ukraine broke out. This was a major setback for European interests while it played well into American economic interests.

Will the same happen with regards to China? Wil Europe’s realpolitik with China slip into conflict as well?

It will depend on how the different cultures within Europe deal with the choices between war and peace.

Network cultures (the Netherlands and the Scandinavian countries) are characterized by very low scores in Performance Orientation, low Power Distance and high Individualism. Their worldview can be summarized by the notion of several forces (rather than two) pulling simultaneously in different directions. In order to compensate for this dispersive tendency, individuals much seek some form of consensus in order to cooperate with each other and live together in communities.

These cultures tend to avoid addressing conflict by force and avoid military action. Their natural tendency is to seek conflict resolution through consensus, with some degree of compromise, rather than by one side trying to overcome the other. Herein lies the big difference between Network cultures and Contest cultures: while both accept conflict, rather than avoiding it, the first tackle conflicts by seeking consensus, while the latter seek winning against an opponent. It’s no coincidence that Network cultures have tried to remain neutral in regional conflicts. They also enhance mediation and diplomacy as a way to resolve international confrontation without resorting to military escalation.

Solar System cultures (such as France, Poland, Spain and Italy) have yet a different way of handling conflicts, engaging in wars and trying to maintain peace. These cultures have the characteristic of a continuing tension between hierarchy (high PDI) and Individualism (high IDV). On one hand, high PDI leads people to seek a higher position in the perceived social hierarchy, dominating others while respecting those that are perceived to hold such a high position that it is difficult to be challenged. 

This stance has historically led such cultures to occasionally engage in conflicts and war. Conflicts are not avoided; rather, they are faced and tackled. The way to tackle them is different from what we see in Contest and in Network cultures; it is not as directly confrontational, nor as directly consensus-seeking. Instead, Solar System cultures tend to seek resolution through a complex series of power plays and diplomacy, which can also get out of control and escalate, though not as quickly and directly as in Contest cultures.

The results are that these cultures can breed skilled diplomats that seek to avoid armed conflict while “saving face” for political leaders and the public opinion of the nations involved. However, escalation and open armed conflicts may happen more easily than it does when Network cultures are involved.

Well-oiled Machine cultures (basically Germanic cultures) show yet a fifth different way of handling conflicts, war and peace. Their basic worldview is that life needs to be planned, organized and structured, with an emphasis on individual responsibility and discipline. 

High scores in Performance Orientation (MAS) can lead to open conflict, but higher scores in Uncertainty Avoidance (UAI), compared to Contest cultures, which all score lower in this dimension, act towards avoiding open conflict and the uncertainty it involves, unless the risks can be mitigated. Order, stability and the avoidance of uncertainty still prevail, pushing for peace, while high Individualism (IDV) and Performance Orientation (MAS) push towards open conflict and war. 

The way Europe will be able to manage all of these different Worldviews will define whether we will see other wars in the continent in the 21st Century, or whether we will experience a lasting peace. 

Europe is not likely to break up the European Union and split back into totally independent nation states. The challenge lies in maintaining cultural diversity, and managing it, while being able to increase cooperation and interdependence to ensure peace not only within the European Economic Community, but also in relation to other global players like the United States, Russia and China.

What if they gave a war and nobody came?

This was the title of a comedy film, with dramatic layers and a pacifist message, directed (6) in 1970 by Hy Averback. It highlighted a shift away from glorifying war in Hollywood productions, towards promoting peace and denouncing the absurdity of war.

What was the Nobel Prize Committee trying to tell the world when they awarded the Nobel Peace Prize to an American President and to the European Union? That diplomacy is important and should be praised. That peace in the world involves acting for peace in the US (the President of the most powerful military force in the world) and in Europe (then the largest economic bloc in the world). That such initiatives should be cherished rather than taken for granted.

So why were many American pundits so irritated by these awards?

Because they hate compromise. They dislike the notion of conceding, rather than overpowering another. And both prizes were in praise of diplomacy and the art of reaching compromise and conceding something, rather than overpowering your opponents by force.

As the song goes: “war is stupid, and people are stupid, and love has no value in some strange quarters” (7).

So, why do we still have so many wars and conflicts going on in the world? Why can’t we all get along and maintain world peace?

The forces pushing for war have to do with economic interests and with culture values. The economic interests include the arms industry all over the world, perhaps the most powerful of the interests involved. To overcome these forces and ensure peace, we will need to increase the awareness of cultural values and foster those culture values that push towards peace and away from war.

The idea of peace needs to be promoted with more flair. “Give peace a chance”, said John Lennon. Do you have to be a rock star to get some attention? We should all be wiser than that. Yes, war is stupid. We should not need Boy George to remind us of that. We should understand this idea and defend it against proponents of war. Especially when the proponents of war look handsome and confident. That is when the idea of war becomes most dangerous and we need to stand against it.


  1. Harari, Yuval Noah – Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind – Harper, New York, 2015
  2. Wursten, Huib – The 7Mental Images of National Culture. Leading and Managing in a globalized World. AMAZON Books ISBN: 9781687633347, 2019
  3. Odnanrev, Reznal – Concepts of Culture – White paper presented at the 14th Global Forum on Executive Development, Shanghai, 2007
  4. Tzu, Sun – The Art of War – Filiquarian; First Thus edition, 2007.
  5. Bond, Michael Harris – The Social Psychology of the Chinese People – Oxford University Press, 1986
  6. Averback, Hy – Suppose they gave a war, and nobody came? – MGM, 1970.
  7. Culture Club – The War Song – Virgin Music, 1984

Culture and Psychology. What Freud and Jung missed

Culture and Psychology. What Freud and Jung missed

By: Fernando Lanzer


Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung were the founding fathers of psychoanalysis and influenced generations of psychologists, psychiatrists and psychotherapists all over the world to this day. This paper explores the fact that they were oblivious to cultural differences, treating culture as if it were a universal phenomenon rather than having differentiating characteristics. Being oblivious to such differences also means that they were not aware of how their own unique cultures influenced their own upbringing, professional development, and even their own thinking about culture. Knowing what we know today about culture allows us to examine psychoanalysis in a different light and better understand how it was created and developed to become what it is in the 21st Century.

Keywords: Psychoanalysis, Contest Culture, Well-Oiled Machine Culture, Reason, Emotions.


We know that culture influences everything we do (1), but we sometimes forget that this is not a new phenomenon: cultural values have always influenced the behavior of community members since the beginning of history itself. Therefore, it is safe to say that all the great thinkers of human history have been a product of their culture, or to say the least, greatly influenced by the cultural values of their communities in their times.

Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung, both founders of psychoanalysis and the main influencing forces behind most psychotherapy approaches of the 20th Century, were no exceptions to this rule. Yet, we often think of their ideas as universal, forgetting that they were a product of certain cultures and certain times, with all the limitations that this entails. We also need to consider that both of them and their immediate followers and contemporary scientists of the human psyche, spoke about psychology, personality development, and psychotherapy from a universalist perspective, totally devoid of the awareness of cultural differences. This was simply because they were ignorant, at the time, of what we take for granted a century later: that different cultures influence people’s behaviors in significant ways, meaning that they themselves (Freud, Jung and other pioneers of “the talking cure,” the very beginning of psychotherapy as a recognized method of treatment and of personality development) were not aware that their very theoretical proposals were not necessarily universal, but rather a product of (and applicable to) certain cultures coherent with their own value-systems.

Freud’s Friends

Sigmund Freud is widely regarded as a genius because, like others before him in other fields of science and art, he was able to think beyond his time and advance human knowledge to a whole new level. He found a breakthrough in psychology by proposing that the human psyche is composed of conscious, subconscious, and unconscious parts and described how our behavior can be driven by impulses of which we are not aware (2). In doing that, he pushed beyond centuries of philosophy prevalent in most cultures that based the notion of human nature on the functioning of conscious thinking. By contrast, Freud proposed that the human mind is composed of an Ego, Superego, and Id, and described the dynamics of contradicting forces that were the root of mental illnesses while also explaining the logic behind behaviors and feelings that were, until that time, basically inexplicable.

He described mental processes from a universalist perspective, basically stating that “this is how people are”. It was assumed that everyone was like that and subject to the same processes. All little boys need to cope with an Oedipus complex, an unconscious desire to kill their fathers and replace them as husbands to their mothers, as a way of crawling back into their mother’s womb. Of course, when describing these ideas over a hundred years ago, Freud was hailed as a genius by some and hated as a heretic by many others.

He was an avid researcher of anthropology, history, culture, archeology, religion, and ancient philosophy; yet, for all his knowledge in these human sciences, he never wandered into the core values of cultures and how different sets of cultural values might affect human individuals in different ways. This path was something to be explored almost a century later by Geert Hofstede (3). 

What Freud, Jung, and basically most psychoanalysts up until 1970 failed to realize is that different cultures breed different styles of superegos, different sets of psychological values and norms that influence individual personalities. Of course, this is consistent with the cultures from which psychoanalysis originated: individualist cultures in which a universalist perspective is preferred.

It is important to note, at this point, that one should be aware of an important distinction between Freudian psychodynamics (his theory of personality) and Freudian psychoanalysis (his form of psychotherapy).

Freudian psychodynamics formed the basis of 20th-century psychology and remained the foundation of most personality theories well into the current times. The terms ego and superego have been incorporated into the vernacular in most cultures all over the world (although the term id is less popular). People use these terms rather frequently without a second thought, and even Freud’s critics use them often. Freud’s psychodynamics are at the core of the concepts espoused by psychologists who take pride in saying they “are not Freudian”. 

Psychoanalysis (as a form of psychotherapy) enjoys a different status. One might say that it is actually controversial since many professionals (and patients) swear by it, while others are staunch critics. Trying to rise above the controversy, we could say that psychoanalysis works for some cases but not for others. It is effective as therapy for some afflictions, but there are other approaches that are much more effective for certain kinds of patients. And we must acknowledge the influence of cultural values underneath all this.

Freud’s theories are a typical product of a Germanic Well-Oiled Machine culture worldview, to use the term coined by Huib Wursten (4). His theories are the pinnacle of rational mechanic thinking taken to the extreme: he created a consistent and complex rational model to explain the irrational. Yes, his thinking was ahead of his time (one hundred years later there are still many who have difficulty in understanding his ideas). And it’s quite logical that psychodynamics and psychoanalysis would emerge and blossom in Well-oiled Machine cultures, subsequently endorsed by other individualistic cultures such as the US and UK, before branching out to most of the world.

Freud’s followers were initially mostly from individualistic cultures. Rather than managing emotions through their expression and allowing emotions to become a vibrant part of their personalities, they continued to suppress their emotions (influenced by the Germanic and Anglo-Saxon emotion-suppressing cultures they had been brought up in), endorsed Freud’s rational analysis and explanations of emotions and built further upon that base: the understanding of emotions through reason, as a way of maintaining them under control.

Freud’s foes

Psychoanalysis remains, in essence, a therapeutic tool to develop a rational understanding and control of emotions. As such, it can be quite efficient in treating mental illnesses that derive from the difficulty in controlling emotions. However, when the mental issues at hand are actually of a different nature, deriving precisely from a lack of awareness of emotions, the “talking cure” (as psychoanalysis was sometimes referred to at its beginning by its critics) can have the effect of sustaining the illness rather than promoting the cure. Other approaches, such as Jacob Moreno’s psychodrama (5), Fritz Perls’ Gestalt therapy (6), and Wilhelm Reich’s inquiries into the role of sexual orgasm (7), tackled mental illness from a different angle: they saw rationality as part of the problem, rather than part of the solution; they sought to develop a patient’s ability to get more in touch with their emotions and avoid rationality as a way to avoid emotional contact.

Hofstede linked the expression of emotions to a high score in Uncertainty Avoidance (UAI). Indeed we can observe that low UAI cultures (Contest, Machine and Network) tended to espouse and promote rational approaches like psychoanalysis (and also Albert Ellis’ Rational Emotional Therapy, which was all rational and not at all emotional) (8). In Pyramid, Solar System, and Family cultures, these rational approaches enjoyed less of a following, comparatively, and the more emotional and physical approaches grew in popularity, consistent with these cultures’ greater acceptance of emotional expression.

On the other hand, Freud’s ideas were also heavily criticized in Contest cultures as being “unscientific” simply because they had not been a product of field research studies and could not be verified in laboratories under controlled conditions. This gave rise to another school of psychological thought: Skinner’s Behavioral Psychology (9).

Skinner’s approach was that only behavior could be observed and verified under controlled conditions in a laboratory. All these notions of superego, ego and id were mere fantasies, since one could not actually observe values, reason and emotions, but only their expression through physical behavior. This perspective, stating that “only what can be observed and verified under controlled conditions can be called science,” has been a cornerstone of Contest and Machine cultures for 300 years.

In the 1960’s and 1970’s the non-rational approaches were endorsed in the US by the Humanists and the Hippie movement; they became part of a thriving counterculture and there was even an Association of Humanistic Psychology formed as an alternative to the more conservative American Psychology Association. (Full disclosure: I was a member of the AHP).

Carl Rogers (10) became the most prominent spokesperson for the alternative approaches to Behaviorism. He famously remarked that looking for psychological solutions in a laboratory was akin to the old joke about a drunken man who is looking for his watch in the living room; although he knows that he dropped it on the street, but in his living room, the lights are on, and he can see, while outside in the street it is still dark. The difficulty in dealing with mental phenomena outside a laboratory should not mean that we should only look to understand them inside a laboratory.

However, since psychoanalysis supported the supremacy of reason and the suppression of emotions, and this was consistent with Contest, Machine and Network values, it survived the criticism and is even enjoying a revival (11). At the same time, the hippie counter-culture movement did not survive into the 21st Century despite this being heralded as “the dawning of the Age of Aquarius,” an era when human consciousness would expand beyond the boundaries of rationalism (12).


Cultural values affect psychological schools of thought. They affect the very notion of what we call “science” and what we consider to be “unscientific.”

An Argentinian author (13) remarked that the word “science” refers to “knowledge” in Latin. Therefore, all knowledge could be referred to as “science.” The idea that science can only refer to what can be verified under controlled conditions is a cultural construct created by British 18th Century philosophers (14) and endorsed in the Contest, Machine  and Network cultures. It should not necessarily be regarded as truly universal, but rather as an idea that is perceived as universal within these cultures, but not beyond them.

We must look at Freud’s and Jung’s ideas (and also at every psychology author anywhere) as a product of their culture in a given time and place. Those who criticize Freud in absolute terms should realize that, from the perspective of the cultural reality in Austria in the early 20th Century, everything he wrote about was true… and most of it remains true to this very day, although we now know that different cultures affect how superegos are developed and how people deal with their emotions differently. One could argue that, from a Well-oiled Machine culture perspective, Freud was always right, and continues to be right; while from a Social Pyramid (for instance) perspective it was (and continues to be) a different story.


  1. Wursten, Huib and Lanzer, Fernando – The New Narrative – Unpublished, Amsterdam, 2024
  2. Freud, Sigmund – O Homem Moisés e a Religião Monoteísta – Porto Alegre, L&PM Editores, 2013.
  3. Hofstede, Geert – Culture’s Consequences – London, Sage, 2003.
  4. Wursten, Huib – The Seven Mental Images of National Culture –Leading and Managing in a globalized World. AMAZON Books ISBN: 9781687633347, 2019.
  5. Moreno, Jacob – Psychodrama – Psychodrama Press, 2020.
  6. Perls, Frederick S. – Gestalt Therapy Verbatim – Gestalt Therapy Press, 1992.
  7. Reich, Wilhelm – The function of the orgasm –  Profile Books, 1989.
  8. Ellis, Albert – Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy – American Psychological Association, 2019.
  9. Skinner, B. F. – Beyond Freedom and Dignity – Bantam Press, 1984.
  10. Rogers, Carl – On Becoming a Person – Robinson Publishing, 1977. 
  11. The Guardian – Psychoanalysis has returnedwhy 2023 brought a new Freud revival –
  12. Hair, the Musical – Music Sales Ltd., 2015. 
  13. Quevedo, Padre – Interviewed by Marilia Gabriela – YouTube:,vid:qq5pEEYEm68,st:0
  14. Hume, David – A Treatise of Human Nature – Penguin Classics, 1986.

Geopolitics and Culture: What Is Driving the Power Games?

Geopolitics and Culture: What is Driving the Power Games?

Author: Fernando Lanzer


Geopolitics are all about nations trying to impose their world views and values upon others, in the firm belief that this will ensure their own survival in the short term and sustainability in the long term. In order to understand the playing field, we must come to know what the underlying values of the relevant global players are, how they affect the way the power games are played and how that all this affects us, the pawns in the planetary chess game. This paper will propose a values framework that might shed some light on what is driving the relevant players’ behavior and what can be expected to happen in the near future.

Key Words: Culture Mental Images; politics; Contest Cultures; China; Network Cultures.


Yuval Noah Harari (1) tells us that what differentiates humans from other species of animals is that our brains give us the ability to tell complex stories that people believe in, leading them to collaborate in large numbers. In other words: human groups (teams, tribes, organizations, nations, etc.) form different cultures around core values that shape the behaviors of group members (2).

These core values, identified through research as value dimensions by Hofstede (3) are combined to form what Wursten (4) has described as Mental Images, or different styles of culture, as I have said (5).

Such culture styles can be used as a reference when trying to understand geopolitics. Most political and economic analysts will wax lyrically about how the economic interests of nations drive international relations and politics. Some will describe ideological conflicts between nations, in terms of religion (Catholics versus Protestants; Muslims versus Christians, etc.), economic regime (Capitalist versus Socialist) or political regimes (Monarchists versus Republicans). Few consider the core values of culture as a key part of the equation; even fewer have used Wursten’s Mental Images as a reference for their analysis.

This paper contends that if what differentiates humans is their ability to tell stories describing their values, then it is only logical that any analysis about geopolitics should regard culture as not only an important factor, but actually as THE most important factor for understanding any nation’s international actions.

In fact, the cultural worldview of a nation affects their foreign policy and how the press of that nation reports on international relations. Failure to understand this has led to the resurgence of wars and to the rise of far-right political movements in many countries.

There are always economic interests behind geopolitics; but these interests are translated into leadership behaviors according to the different culture values guiding respective political leaders. Different cultures breed different international stances. Contest cultures tend to confront and move to armed conflict; Network cultures tend to seek international consensus; Solar System cultures strive for diplomacy and power games while avoiding open conflict; and so on.

Contest cultures as playmakers

The past two hundred years of global history have been dominated by the actions of the British Empire as a dominant force, followed by one of its former colonies, the United States of America, a modern Empire in its own right. Both have been described by Wursten as Contest Cultures and form the core of what I have referred to as the British-American Cultural Commonwealth that includes Australia and Canada (all Contest Cultures).

Contest Cultures, by definition, have as their core worldview the notion that life is an eternal competition with winners and losers, where typically two opposing forces clash, hopefully to create a positive outcome. Confrontations are the default manner of addressing issues, whether they regard characters in romantic comedies, dramas or thrillers on TV; or whether they refer to international relations and geopolitics.

This worldview forms a cultural lens through which international relations are perceived. It has underpinned foreign policy in the UK and in the US for centuries; it sits at the core of the American “Monroe Doctrine” (“as long as America’s contenders for world dominance are busy fighting with each other, they will not pose a threat to America itself”).

It also fosters a “are you with us or against us” mindset, in which political non-alignment has no place. Nations are basically divided into categories: allies and enemies. The consequence is a tendency to confront, divide and go to war. Diplomacy is not a first resort; it may not be the last resort, but it tends to be pushed aside while confrontation remains at the forefront.

Sadly, this constant confrontation mentality favors war, not peace; it creates tensions that might be avoided; it invents enemies when nations are simply trying to avoid involvement in conflict. It goes beyond accepting conflict; it entails seeking conflict as the preferred way to handle international relations. It benefits the military-industrial complex that Eisenhower warned the world about in his closing address as he handed over the American presidency to the young president-elect John F. Kennedy. (6)

It is no wonder that America has the highest military budget in the world and that it is the country that has more often gone to war in the past 100 years; its cultural outlook sees conflict everywhere, and its core values foster confronting such perceived conflicts, whether real or imagined.

The American Press (and also the British) reverberates and amplifies this outlook. In the global Age of Misinformation, happenings around the world tend to be described by Anglo-American media as the eternal competition/confrontation conundrum fostered by their core values. Facts are secondary; the priority is to confirm the cultural values in which the media is embedded.

This phenomenon, of course, is not restricted to Contest Cultures. All cultures tend to describe reality as a confirmation of their core values; and the media plays a key role in mirroring and amplifying culture values in every culture.

The challenge for other cultures is to deal with a Contest cultures that are economically and militarily dominant. How do you deal with a guy who is sitting on a pile of nuclear weapons and looking for a fight?

Ukraine, Gaza, and other playgrounds

The Contest culture mentality makes it more difficult to negotiate, compromise, or seek consensus. The wars currently raging in Ukraine and Gaza are prime examples, since they are actually proxy wars with significant involvement of the United States. The American Purpose magazine has just headlined an article by Robert Satloff and Dennis Ross on December 1, 2023, titled “Ending the War”, arguing that “Hamas’ surrender would break the binary choice between conflict and ceasefire.”(7) This illustrates two aspects of Contest Culture mentality: (a) the world is perceived as made of binary choices, with no room for nuances or more than two options; and (b) in a conflict there must always be a winner and a loser. Therefore, the way to end the war in Gaza is through the surrender of Hamas. Hardly a point of view to be supported by diplomats. This is equivalent to saying “sure, I can stop fighting… as soon as I beat the other guy, or as soon as the other guy admits defeat!”

The war in Ukraine offers many similar examples, and also illustrates still another aspect of Contest Culture mentality: the valuing of performance over caring. Both in Ukraine and in Gaza there have been hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of innocent civilians killed, hurt or displaced as a consequence of war. These victims have been consistently referred to as “collateral damage” by Contest Culture spokespersons and by its media.

When Ukraine started a counter-offensive against Russian positions during the Summer of 2023, there were some significant dissenting opinions between Ukrainian military commanders and the Americans who were technically merely “advising” them. Basically, the Americans insisted that the counter-offensive should aim at re-claiming Crimea (taken by the Russians in 2014), even though this would have greater casualties among the Ukrainian forces as a consequence. To the American strategists such casualties should again be regarded as collateral damage in the pursuit of a military victory. The Ukrainians (a Social Pyramid Culture that values caring for others and quality of life, more than it values performance) rejected the idea and opted instead for pushing towards the Eastern front.

True to the Monroe Doctrine, the American leaders can see Europe entangled in a war between Russia and Ukraine. They stoke the war, including the use of propaganda broadcast by Anglo-American media such as CNN, BBC and The Economist (plus practically every lesser-known outlet in the US/UK) while remaining out of it. They encourage confrontation and conflict, while saving their own resources. And they sell more energy to Europe, while Russian suppliers are sanctioned.

Before the war in Ukraine, the European Union (led by Well-oiled Machine Culture Germany and Solar System Culture France) was seeking a pragmatic policy with Russia, strengthening commercial ties and gradually consolidating a peaceful coexistence. This was perceived by Contest Culture America as a potential threat in the medium to long term; the idea of constantly confronting an enemy has been at the heart of the American mindset for centuries. When there is not a clear enemy, this mindset calls for creating one: the Soviet Union, Russia, North Korea, or China. During the Trump administration, even Europe was quoted a few times as an enemy. After all, “if you are not with us, you are against us!”

In the Biden administration the Contest mindset continues, of course. Political parties do not act in a way that would be inconsistent with core culture values. So, the enemy of the month is sometimes Russia, sometimes China… and it could be Europe again if the European Union does not align fully with American postures.

Some nations have tried to declare themselves “non-aligned” when the Cold War between the US and the Soviet Union was in full scale. India and Brazil were examples and continue to be as we move into 2024. This posture attempts to negate the “with us or against us” stance. However, it is basically not accepted by the US and by the UK, because it does not fit into the Contest Culture mindset (8). Lula and Modi have been criticized by media at home and abroad whenever they position themselves as non-aligned to America. This is perceived by US/UK pundits as being “against” America, because they tend not to perceive anything beyond “with us or against us.”

This is not just a foreign policy issue for governments or an editorial policy issue for media; it runs deeper, because it is a culture issue.

The other kids on the block

Culture affects all nations’ geopolitics attitudes and actions, not just Contest Cultures. Though in 2024 Contest Cultures will continue being the main forces in geopolitics, the ways in which different nations and regional blocs position themselves, and respond to situations, are strongly influenced by their culture types.

Social Pyramid Cultures, for instance, tend to take their high Power Distance values and project them to international relations. They perceive hierarchies among nations and typically consider Western European nations and the United States as sitting at the top of this international social structure. They see themselves as sitting in positions that are inferior to some countries and superior to others. They do not see the international playing field as being leveled, but rather as consisting of a hierarchy in which all nations are striving to climb higher than their present position.

The rather undesirable consequence of this is that these cultures tend to imitate those habits and behaviors of the perceived higher cultures, and to shun those belonging to cultures perceived as inferior. These perceived “superior-subordinate” relationships can often stifle international negotiations about trade, security and economic development, since diplomats unconsciously adopt hierarchical attitudes, rather than negotiating from a position of equality. And they do try to “climb the ladder” of international hierarchy by rising above certain countries as they attempt to get closer to the (perceived) top.

China is the most typical Traditional Family Culture, plus it has the world’s highest score in the so-called Fifth Dimension, Long-Term Orientation, which includes Relativism and Flexibility among its characteristics. China’s foreign policy stances have everything to do with its culture, which is quite often misunderstood by Western analysts and underestimated as a determining factor. The Economist, for instance, has created a weekly blog named “The Drum Tower”, which positions itself as describing “What the world makes of China—and what China makes of the world”. However, the authors fail to realize that they are describing China through a (very culturally biased) British lens; and through that lens they have the pretention to describe how China sees the world. Their attempts are embarrassingly inaccurate, due to an impressive ignorance of the core values underpinning Chinese culture.

China’s positions in geopolitics are totally linked to its long-term orientation, which drives thinking in decades rather than in quarters, plus their emphasis on flexibility and relativism. In practical terms, for instance, this means that the Chinese government believes that Taiwan will be eventually become part of the Chinese nation… and it will happen without the need for military action. To them, it is simply a matter of time; and of exerting influence through many other means, expecting outcomes in perhaps a generation or two, rather than in a year or two. Contest Culture leaders and the media in places like the US, UK and Australia talk about the China-Taiwan issue in terms of months and a few years; meanwhile, the Chinese consider it something to be resolved in decades. The mismatch of expectations is striking.

Similarly, Contest Culture analysts describe China’s New Silk Road project as the construction of an intercontinental road that is taking too long to be completed. To the Chinese government this is much more than a road; it is a pathway to exert political, economic and cultural influence over time. They expect outcomes in half a century, not half a decade; and they have no problem in waiting patiently for these outcomes.

As Professor Yuen Yen Ang said in her brilliant “How the West (and Beijing) got China wrong” lecture at Camden in 2019: “What everyone needs to understand is that China’s strength lies not in brute power, but in its flexibility” (9). The long-term perspective allows China’s governments to be flexible while pursuing goals that may lie 20 years or more in the future.

This is why China is willing to be patient as it acts in geopolitics: it is not concerned with winning issues in the short term. China plays the (very) long game and can adapt its strategy on the way.

Network Cultures, on the other hand are constantly seeking consensus also in international relations, while also valuing quality of life and caring for others instead of performance. They tend to have a more equality-based approach in trade and diplomacy, which often turns out to be more effective in brokering deals and agreements. These values might put such cultures in a better position to facilitate complex international agreements (on issues such as climate change) when compared to Contest cultures, for instance.

What the future holds

In a world where physical power and military might were essential to dominate the world scene, it was only natural that Contest cultures would prevail. But as we go further into the 21st Century, there is a possibility that other values (and skills deriving from them) could gain more prominence and benefit Network cultures as facilitators of increasingly complex international relationships.

Solar System cultures, notably France, will continue to play important roles in diplomacy linked to this type of culture’s skill in handling both hierarchy and individual freedoms. They could form interesting alliances with Network cultures in the drive towards better quality of life and peaceful coexistence in a complex globalized world.

China, on the other hand, continues to play the long game. It can wait for Contest cultures to exhaust themselves in immediate conflicts with Russia or with other players in the Middle East and elsewhere. It can keep gradually increasing its influence in Europe, Africa, the Middle East and Latin America (not to mention Asia itself). China’s culture values include the belief that it will eventually prevail, without having to actually engage in military action. Perhaps our grandchildren will see a different world order in terms of geopolitics. That is what China is aiming for.


  1. Harari, Yuval Noah – Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind – Harper, New York, 2015.
  2. Hofstede, Geert – Culture’s Consequences – Sage Publications, 2003.
  3. Hofstede, Geert – op. cit.
  4. Wursten, Huib –(2019). The 7 Mental Images of National Culture Leading and Managing in a Globalized World. ISBN-10: 1687633347 ISBN-13: 978-1687633347
  5. Lanzer, Fernando – Organizational Culture and Climate: understanding, maintaining and changing – KDP Publishing, 2018.
  6. Eisenhower, Dwight E. – Final Address – National Archives, U.S. Government.
  7. Satloff, Robert, et al. – Ending the war – American Purpose, December 1, 2023
  8. How to survive a superpower split – The Economist, April 11, 2023.
  9. Ang, Yuen Yuen –


Cultural filters and blind spots in media

Cultural filters and blind spots in media



                                              Cultural filters and blind spots in media

                                                                                                                 Fernando Lanzer



Everyone perceives reality through a filter, as if wearing tinted glasses. This applies to media outlets as well. Therefore, whenever one sees or hears anything in the media, one must ask questions. Who exactly is the source of this information? What does one know about them? What kind of cultural bias do they have?

There are at least three filtering processes involved: (1) the perception of reality by a source of information; (2) the way that source communicates information to you; and (3) the perception of that information by yourself.

The main issue is that we constantly consume English-language content produced mostly by Contest culture media. As a result, there is a lot of filtering going on, with a high probability of distortion—not only purely cultural but also because there might be vested interests at stake.

So, what are the typical distortion filters at work in different cultures regarding how their media perceive and broadcast information to the world? This paper will describe some of them and add an aspect that is sometimes overlooked: the blind spots that can be found in media. That is to say: the cultural bias that is most often quite unconscious in media because most people from those specific cultures tend to be quite unaware of it, even when they might be aware of other biases that might be regularly discussed in that culture.


Contest Cultures; Cultural Bias; Mainstream Media; Social Networks.


The Pope visits Cuba.

A joke trailing back to the 1960s tells how a fictitious papal visit to Cuba was reported differently by different media vehicles. It illustrates how the same facts can often be reported very differently depending on the different biases embedded in media.

As the story went, Fidel Castro and the Pope took a break from their formal meetings and official duties in front of the press and went for a walk on the beach. Media representatives watched from a distance.

To everyone’s amazement, at a certain moment, Fidel Castro went into the sea and actually walked on water as if he was the reincarnation of Jesus Christ!

The next day, this fantastic event was reported by different newspapers.

The local Havana News ran a headline: FIDEL WALKS ON WATER!


Yet in Miami, the anti-Castro Cuban Times announced: CASTRO CAN’T SWIM!

The end of impartiality

The age of mass communication heralded by Marshall McLuhan (1) in the 1960s has continued to expand aggressively and globally with no deacceleration in sight.

At first, the news media aimed to objectively report what was going on and remain impartial. For example, Ted Turner’s CNN followed the credo that “the news should be the star of the show, not the newscaster. (2) Long after Turner left the organization he developed to become a global standard, this principle was still in force. However, most of the news media all over the world continued to struggle with their finances. It is an open secret that most, if not all, news media were structurally not viable from a commercial/financial point of view. They regularly needed a significant influx of capital to remain afloat.

Traditionally speaking, journalists make terrible managers. They can investigate and write very well, but they are awful at managing people, finances, and just plain management.

Then Rupert Murdoch (3) came along. His media empire grew to become a global force in English-speaking media. Apparently, here was a company that could be financially viable and commercially successful in an industry where almost nobody was capable of doing that.

Many reasons can be quoted to explain Murdoch’s success. However, for the purpose of this paper, one aspect deserves our attention because it had a ripple effect that heavily influenced other media outlets: the way Fox News (a Murdoch organization) used values and emotions to increase their audience ratings, throwing caution and impartiality to the wind.

Fox decided to make the newscasters the stars instead of the news, reversing Turner’s principle. And rather than simply reporting the facts, they focused on broadcasting the newscaster’s opinion about what was happening. This quickly escalated to influencing the very choices of what to report and how to report it. Fox News had an agenda, and that permeated all their broadcasting.

In the case of Fox, the agenda was openly conservative and right-wing. Seeing its ratings plummet, CNN decided to also forgo Turner’s principles and move towards becoming Fox’s progressive, left-wing counterpart. CNN’s newscasters became the stars, leaving the facts on the sidelines, and the reporting became a reflection of their own values agenda.

In 2023, media literacy means being able to acknowledge that media is no longer impartial. Perhaps it never was. To some extent, media always reflected, unconsciously, the values of its national cultures. McLuhan, by the way, warned everybody by coining the phrase “the media is the message.” In other words: the content has been shaped by the media’s biases, so tread carefully. Nowadays, this has just been taken to the max (or closer to it).

Contest Culture bias in global media

The BBC used to enjoy a reputation for impartial and objective reporting. It also adhered to the norm of highlighting the news rather than the newscaster. It is moving slowly towards the American model of turning the news into a show to increase its audience. It has also left impartiality behind and pursues its own political agenda choosing what to report and how to report it in ways consistent with its own values.

This has been clear as of late by observing how the BBC has changed its manner of reporting anything involving China and Russia. Contest Cultures (see 4) are characterized by the confrontation of two opposing forces; this includes a tendency to view the world as such: wherever one looks (through Contest Culture lenses), one sees conflict and confrontation between two opposing forces. Consistent with that outlook, there is a tendency to see an enemy whenever one looks at the global stage. The “are you with us, or against us” mentality permeates the media originating in the Contest Cultures.

Not only TV but also outlets originally born as printed matter vehicles (The Economist, The New York Times, and many others) tend to write about China and/or Russia, casting them as threats or enemies, and this has been the case for years before the war in Ukraine. During the Trump administration, even the European Union was cast as an enemy of American interests for a while. The choice of words is important, especially in individualist cultures that put more emphasis on content than on format: it is one thing to describe other nations as competitors, adversaries, or even opponents; it is much more serious when these nations are referred to as enemies.

The Economist (a magazine) has created a newsletter about China called “Drum Tower.” (5) They subtitled it ambitiously as “What the world makes of China—and what China makes of the world.”  The blind spot here is that the editors of The Economist fail to recognize that they are writing about what they, the editors, make of China, with their strong British bias, and not what the world thinks. Also, they are writing about their interpretation of what China thinks, not what the real Chinese think. It won’t come as a surprise that very few, if any, of the items in the newsletter are written by Chinese journalists or even by any journalists who are not British.

The Contest Culture blind spot is firmly in place: the editors fail to perceive their cultural bias; they believe their outlook is the right one and disregard anything different.

Contest Culture media bias is especially worrisome because it is prevalent in English language media, which is globally dominant. Even this article is written in English, I am quite aware of the restrictions entailed by using Shakespeare’s language. That is bad enough because international English is, in many ways, a rather poor language to express nuance (needed a French term for that…) and subtleties (again…), but it gets worse. English limits our ability to communicate and carries with it English values like all languages have their own cultural values. So, for instance, we end up using all kinds of references to weapons when we write about shooting pictures and films or when we describe the aim of what we are trying to convey. (6)

In her book Slanted: How the News Media Taught Us to Love Censorship and Hate Journalism, Sharyl Attkisson (7) recounts numerous cases of biased journalism when her editors told her to write pieces expressing their (the editor’s) opinions about issues rather than objective facts. Unfortunately, in this day and age, biases have been normalized in Contest Culture media: people in media don’t even regard it as a problem, except for a few idealists here and there who still raise their voices (seldom heard) against it.

It is no wonder that mainstream media has lost its credibility and has been losing its audience to bloggers on social media. In search of bigger audiences, mainstream news media have turned news into entertainment and newscasters into celebrities that emphasize their own values and emotions. These newscasters have tried to position themselves as “closer to the average spectator.” However, they have lost their credibility as “impartial voices of reason;” and have encouraged, through their behavior, the average person to conclude that “anybody can do this like these guys are doing it, including me!” So, why listen to mainstream news media if they no longer seek to report the truth but rather simply express their opinions like the people I meet on the street?

Hence the rise of social networks as news media broadcasting entities, where anybody can play the role of reporter, news anchor and political commentator, filled with cultural bias and not the least bit concerned about it. This is stressed to the maximum in Contest Cultures, characterized by assertiveness, a telling and selling communication style, and standing up for your beliefs against criticism.

Still, mainstream media is not dead in Contest Cultures, and it continues to have the broadest global reach. Therefore, it is important to recognize the cultural bias embedded in the messages it broadcasts. The bias includes:

Polarization as a default outlook: the tendency to describe everything as a fight between two opposing forces.

Life as a competition: the idea that everyone is competing to win.

Winners and losers as the outcome of life: if you are not “number one” at every competition, you will be branded as a loser and despised by all.

Short-term perspective: focusing on the immediate impact of what is happening. In other words: impact this week, this month, and this quarter. Thinking of “long-term” as anything beyond three months.

Measurable results as the desired outcome. If it can’t be measured, it is not important.

Economic growth, measured by GDP, as the ultimate standard of prosperity and the ultimate goal of any society.

The (mistaken) implications are many. For example, is it really that important to know every month who is the richest person on the planet? Should we really care about which nation has the highest figures in Gross Domestic Product? Do we need to choose the Best Picture of the year, rather than just which are the top ten? Should there even be such a contest? Should we have contests about art? Why should we have so many competitions about anything?

Media literacy means asking yourself every time you are faced with information: what is the source? What is the cultural bias affecting the source? How can I reinterpret this information, considering the context and my own cultural bias?

Looking at Contest Culture media sources, it is essential to understand Contest Cultures’ core values and how that affects the content and format of the information they broadcast. This is true not only for mainstream news media, but for all media originated by anyone in a Contest Culture.

Different cultures, different bias

Contest Culture news media vehicles are not the only ones sporting bias. All media vehicles are affected by their own cultural bias anywhere in the world. The bias is different, yet it is still there.

Solar System cultures include France, Spain, and Italy, each with its own tradition of news media transcending their national borders. None as wide-reaching as the British and American media, but still having some notorious news organizations such as Le Monde, El País and Il Corriere Della Sera, respected internationally.

The French cultural bias in mainstream news media is represented by a tendency to over-intellectualize everything. It is certainly interesting to delve deeper into news subjects and offer a more profound description of what is going on; however, one can get too much of a good thing when news anchors regularly spend considerable time describing the concepts behind what is happening, usually with a very elaborate vocabulary. It seems important to demonstrate to the audience that you are also quite knowledgeable on the reported subject, no matter how technical. There is also the assumption that your audience is quite interested in the theoretical concepts behind the news.

To a lesser extent, this is also observed in Spanish and Italian broadcasting. However, the fact remains that in these three cultures, the media typically uses twice as many words to describe the same facts compared to Contest Culture media reporting in English. Solar System media outlets also tend to put more time and effort into describing the context before coming to the core issue they report.

In Well-oiled Machine Cultures, the bias tends to be about Uncertainty Avoidance and the need to maintain order in the world. This leads news media from those cultures to amplify whatever is perceived as a threat to existing customs, behavior patterns and institutions. As a result, headlines heralding dramatic change tend to exaggerate what is happening. The proposed solutions, of course, tend to involve more research, planning and structuring that experts should lead to coping with impending change.

In Network Cultures, news media tends to highlight the point of view of the less fortunate. Headlines often are dedicated to the victims of war, geological tragedies, hurricanes, or of shortcomings in government policies. A fair amount of attention tends to be dedicated to criticism (of anyone or any institution). The bias in that is that the dominant sides of a competition or happening tend to get less attention than what might be regarded as their fair share in other cultures. For example: when the results of tight elections were announced, the Dutch media had more pictures of those who lost than the winning sides.

In Social Pyramid and Family Cultures, there is a tendency to use expressions that reflect hierarchy in the way facts are described, somewhat akin to the weapons figures of speech used in Contest Cultures. Examples: rather than stating “Team A played better than Team B,” news media are more likely to say that “Team A imposed their game over Team B.” Rather than state that “Madam C was a success at the party,” news media in Social Pyramid and Family cultures are more likely to say that “madam C overwhelmed everyone at the party.” When Parliament passes new legislation, it is often described as “being imposed by Parliament.” In all these expressions, hierarchy and power distance are stressed.

Language reflects cultural values and language used by news media tends to do that even more so. In its attempts to appeal intensely to its audience, news media will try very hard to reflect community values in their vocabulary. For a trained eye, it is not difficult to spot how media choose words, consciously or more often unconsciously, that reflect and reinforce the core values of their culture.

A universal bias: “journalism likes blood.”

Journalists know that items reporting perceived threats get more attention in all cultures. Luiz Felipe Pondé, a Brazilian journalist himself, has often used the expression “journalism likes blood.” (8) He has explained that when news editors spot something that will be perceived as a threat by their audience, they immediately place such topics to the forefront of their broadcasting, knowing that people will naturally give it their utmost attention. It is a matter linked to survival instincts: we are all interested in gaining knowledge about anything that might threaten our existence to avoid it.

Knowing that perceived threats will get the public’s attention, media editors feature them prominently to improve their audience ratings and sell more advertisements, their most important source of revenue. What may differ from culture to culture is precisely what kind of news items are perceived as threats. Each culture will amplify different things according to its core values. Media literacy means knowing enough about the values of the media sources to filter out the cultural bias embedded in them.

Hope in Finland

All is not lost. In Finland, teachers are helping teenagers to spot fake news in the media as part of their reading & interpretation skills development at school (9). Teachers present different articles to students in class and ask them to discuss and respond to questions such as: “What’s the article’s purpose? How and when was it written? What are the author’s central claims?”

One can only hope that new generations will learn at home and school from an early age to recognize the biases existing in media and avoid spreading misinformation everywhere.



(1) McLuhan, Marshall – Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man – Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1964.


(3) Once described by Ted Turner as “the most dangerous man in the world)

(4) Wursten Huib (2019) The 7Mental Images of National Culture. Leading and Managing in a globalized World. AMAZON Books ISBN: 9781687633347

In this book Culture clusters are proposed with different “rules of the game”. See below:

(5) Drum Tower – What the world makes of China and what China makes of the world – A newsletter by The Economist.


(6) Guns in America: a loaded relationship – NPR – 2013.

(7) Attkisson, Sharyl – Slanted: How the News Media Taught Us to Love Censorship and Hate Journalism, – Harper, 2020

(8) Pondé, Luiz Felipe – Linhas Cruzadas – TV Cultura, Brazil, 22 October, 2022.

(9) How Finland is Teaching a Generation to Spot Misinformation – New York Times, January 10, 2023.


So, you want to build a nation

By Fernando Lanzer


The recipe for nation-building is easy: just follow the same core process that you might use to change an organization, or to change an individual. Simply describe the current situation, describe the desired situation, and make a detailed plan of how you intend to go from the former to the latter. Anyone (or any group of powerful and influential people) should be capable of carrying out the recipe, as long as they have the discipline to address these three aspects with enough depth of analysis and broad vision. The difficulty begins with being aware of your own bias as a potential nation-builder. Sadly, most politicians and public policy designers involved in nation-building are completely clueless about culture, its impact, and their own biases. Using Huib Wursten’s Mental Images (1) as a reference can prove to be very helpful to understand the key issues involved.

João (a song written by Arnaldo Antunes) (2)

São tantos e tão poucos tem noção

De como se inaugura uma nação

Não é bem com monumentos

Ou com balas de canhão 

É quando uma brisa bate na respiração

E entra no juízo de um João

Que dedica todo empenho

E amor ao seu engenho 

Para arejar os cantos da canção

E dar sentido a nossa sensação

They are so many, but so few have the notion

Of how you can inaugurate a nation

It’s not exactly with monuments

Or with cannon balls and ammunition

It’s when a breeze hits your respiration

And gets inside the judgment of a Joe

Who dedicates all his efforts

And love his endeavor

To breathe air into the corners of a song

And give some sense to our sensation

Key Words: Culture, Contest Cultures, Democratic Institutions, Social Change, Social Pyramid, Individualism, Power Distance.


Let me try and manage your expectations a bit. Nation-building is not easy at all. Some people would argue that it is simply impossible… and perhaps you should just give up altogether.

Let’s assume that it is possible, at least in theory; and let’s also accept, at least for the sake of argumentation, that we might even find one or two cases in history when it actually happened (Singapore comes to mind).

Let’s review your thinking process by going over my favorite analytical tool, my very own “Eternal Triangle of Change” (3). Using the triangle, let’s examine the three basic questions it proposes as a way of structuring our analysis and discussion:

  1. Where are we?
  2. Where do we want to go?
  3. How do we get there?

In terms of nation-building, this means looking at:

  1. Which nation are you trying to build? What is the current situation there? How did they get where they are? And, most importantly: why do you want to change that? Do they, the citizens, want to change the current situation? Who else wants to change it, and why? Who opposes the change, and why do they favor keeping things the way they are?
  2. What kind of nation are you trying to build? What does success look like? What are your criteria for concluding that “we have reached our objectives; the nation has been built and now looks the way it should?” How will you measure success?
  3. What is your change plan? How will you get from A to B? What is your estimated time frame for building the nation you want? What are the foreseen obstacles to doing that, and how do you intend to overcome them? What are the allies and resources that will support the implementation of your plan?

Answering these questions should keep you busy for a while. In the meantime, let’s look at the main factor behind the many failed attempts at nation-building: culture.

Starting at the beginning: where are we?

The core values of each culture influence the behavior of everyone in that culture, so naturally, they also influence government officials, policymakers, intellectuals, and media professionals.

When we discuss nation-building, who are we typically talking about? The US (supported by its “parent culture” UK) decides that some nation in the developing world needs building. Rather than “live and let live,” the underlying notion is that there is something wrong with the target nation; and it is the responsibility of the US/UK to fix it. There are a set of values that underpin that mindset.

Wursten (1) has described “Contest cultures” as characterized by high Individualism (IDV), low Power Distance (PDI), high Masculinity (MAS), and low Uncertainty Avoidance (UAI). I would like to add that they also score low on Long Term Orientation (LTO). Both the US and UK are Contest cultures, and they are also characterized by a mindset that sees life as a constant clash between opposing forces. Out of that clash, a positive outcome is expected. In such cultures, conflict is not avoided, but rather it should be embraced and managed to obtain the expected positive outcome. Confrontation and standing your ground are accepted as part of daily life and also a necessary component of geopolitics.

When it comes to nation-building, the mindset of “we have to save them, whether they want it or not,” is supported by high Individualism and high Masculinity. The combination of these values, together with low UAI and low LTO, creates a feeling of righteousness and a bias for action.

“We have to do it, not anybody else” is a mindset supported by high Individualism, a value dimension that is linked to taking responsibility, rather than “passing the buck” to someone else.

“There is something wrong with them” is supported by the normative aspect of low LTO (as opposed to the relativism that characterizes high LTO).

“We need to do something about it” is supported by high Masculinity combined with the previous two dimensions mentioned (LTO and IDV).

It is worth noting that there is a bias for action involved, as in “shoot first, ask questions later.” This is supported by the short-term perspective that characterizes low LTO, enhanced by the high Masculinity. “It is better to err by doing, than by standing idle” is a popular expression that illustrates this attitude.

To save someone who perhaps does not want to save is supported again by Individualism and the combination of the other dimensions cited. “I know what needs to be done and I will do it regardless of your opinion” is a way of summarizing this mindset.

Low Uncertainty Avoidance supports the notion of acting without necessarily a lot of planning and taking the risks inherent to that.

When you look at these values combined, it is no wonder that both the US and the UK get involved in nation-building. On the other hand, in both countries, there have been significant dissenting voices. In the US, Trumpism supported the idea that the US Government should forget about nation-building, for instance in Iraq and Afghanistan), because America should come first. And in the UK the population voted to leave the European Union, rather than stay and try to fix its problems (as perceived from the British point of view).

Division and conflict are an integral part of Contest cultures. Often the bias is not only for action, but there is also a bias for disagreeing with whatever is being proposed, simply to show that you have your own opinion and will not blindly follow others. If there were no dissenting opinions these cultures would not be Contest cultures.

Yet, when all is said and done, the prevalent notion in the US and UK cultures is that one should not stand idly watching another nation becoming a failed State. Even when this other State is not actually failing, but merely is performing in a way that is consistent with a different set of values, there is a great difficulty in allowing other nations to behave as they please. The bias toward confrontation leads people to believe that it is valid to fight against those who behave differently, and the normative aspect of low LTO supports making a strong effort towards changing other people’s way of thinking and behaving. “Everybody must follow the (social) norm!”

What kind of nation are you trying to build?

From a Contest culture perspective, the response to this question is: “We are looking at nations that do not have institutions functioning according to the standards of the Contest culture, and trying to change them to be more like us.” Therein lies the problem: when you look at the world through your own culturally biased filter, everybody else needs building.

When Americans engage in nation-building they are basically trying to make a slightly modified version of America, and that is in itself the biggest obstacle since the target country’s culture typically is dramatically different. Nation builders tend to attempt to reproduce their own culture when they engage in building another nation. This is understandable, but it is also a huge mistake. Plus, it is by far the single most important reason nation-building failed in Iraq, Libya, and Afghanistan, and is likely to fail anywhere else where the local culture is not taken into account.

When the US invaded both Iraq and Afghanistan, the people involved in building a new nation in those countries were trying to recreate institutions that would function according to the parameters of the American culture. Basically, that included a governance structure consisting of three powers (Executive, Legislative and Judicial), with democratic elections and two opposing parties, plus a free press and freedom to worship any religion. None of this was supported neither by the culture of Iraq nor the culture of Afghanistan… and the efforts failed miserably.

If you want to build a nation, do discuss with the local people exactly what kind of a nation would they like to build. And if they say, “we want to be like America,” don’t believe them! They are saying that just to please you, or because they do not really understand what it means “to become America” in terms of cultural values. It’s OK to admire the American culture, just like many Americans admire the Danish culture, but you should not try to turn Afghanistan into America, just like you should not try to turn the United States into Denmark. These dramatic transformations will never work.

You cannot turn a Social Pyramid culture (such as Afghanistan and/or Iraq) into a Contest culture (such as the USA), just like you cannot turn America into Denmark. You can improve the way a Social Pyramid functions and you can improve how a Contest culture functions but be aware that the underlying values of culture prevail in the long term, so ignoring them will lead to failure.

Which brings us to address the third question mentioned at the beginning of this paper: how do we get there? How do you build a nation?

Building nations successfully (or, how do we get there?)

Start by discussing (with the local leadership involved) the two previous questions: (a) what is the current culture like, and what is not working; and (b) what is the desired culture (realistically) and how should institutions work effectively in this improved version of the current culture.

Continue by developing an action plan that is consistent with the desired culture, realistic, and includes the Exco Propolis approach.

This approach is an acronym for Leading by Example, Communication, Project Management, and Policy Review. These principles are the foundation of changing culture in large organizations, and they can be equally applied to building nations.

Leading by Example means that indeed the leaders of the new nation should behave in a way that is consistent with the desired culture. People follow the behavior (of leaders) more than they follow (they’re) speeches. Pick your leaders wisely and coach them as needed.

Communication is key and it is not just broadcasting. In order to build a nation, you need to establish communication channels that will allow people to voice their opinions and concerns in a way that they feel that they are being heard. You need to communicate the values, rules, and standards of the new nation and also allow people to voice their reactions, so that you may adjust accordingly.

Project Management will be necessary to monitor the implementation of your plans. There will be many programs and projects going on simultaneously and coordinating them will be quite a challenge.

Policy Review means overhauling the existing institutional and legal frameworks to make sure they are consistent with the new nation that is being built.

In order to ensure that the new nation develops sustainably, invest heavily in education. Focus your efforts on educating children aged 4 to 11; this is when they form their notion of right and wrong, and this sets the stage for everything they learn afterward. Nations are built by shaping the values of a new generation. Warning: that takes time.

One thing is certain: you cannot build a nation with machine guns and artillery. Whenever anybody tried to build a nation through force, using military power, they failed. Nations are built by unarmed forces. You need to understand these forces and use them. It’s not about “hard power,” but rather “soft power.”

Therefore, it requires participation and room for discussions. And all of that does require a lot of time. Participation, by the way, works as a motivator in any culture. It needs to be organized and conducted differently (more direction from the top in high PDI cultures, more structure in Well-Oiled Machine cultures, more focus on competition and results in Contest culture) but it can be a very powerful engagement tool, as long as it is done in a way that is consistent with each culture.

When Contest culture leaders engage in building a nation that is currently a Social Pyramid or a Traditional Family culture (1) (3), one of the first shocks they face is the difference in time perspective. Contest cultures value short-term results and expect things to happen rather quickly. When the Arab Spring began in early 2011 and spread across North Africa, the ensuing situation in Egypt illustrated this point. Political leaders, pundits, and the media in Contest cultures (notably the US, UK, Canada, and Australia) called for a swift change from a centuries-old autocracy directly into a democratic regime. I was frequently in Egypt at the time working with local companies. People often asked me how the transition from military rule had happened in Brazil. I told them it had taken about a decade and a half, so they should lower their expectations. They were disappointed. They wanted it all to happen in a maximum of two years.

I argued that the military should stay in power for a few years after Mubarak was ousted. They should call for electing a General Assembly with the purpose of writing a new Constitution over the next two or three years. After that, a general election should be called for one or two years later in order to form a new Parliament. That Parliament, once elected, could vote to elect a country’s President, in a so-called indirect election. At the end of a five-year mandate, direct voting by the people would elect the next President. The whole process would take seven or eight years, half the time it had taken in Brazil. This would be incredibly fast, considering that Brazil had already had periods of democracy alternating with military governments since the 1890s. By contrast, Egypt had never before had an election for President in its entire history as a nation.

As it were, elections were called for just months after Mubarak was removed from power by a military coup. That, of course, was way too soon. Society was not yet ready for that. There were no political parties prepared for such a dramatic change, so quickly. As might be expected, the two existing political forces that were already reasonably organized emerged as two opposing forces in a Contest-culture-style runoff election: the military on one side and the Muslim Brotherhood on the other.

The whole process was hurried and messy. The Muslim Brotherhood candidate Mohamad Morsi won and was inaugurated with little time to form an effective and efficient governing structure. His government lasted for about a year and was a disaster. There was another coup and the military came back to power, proceeding to lead the country in an autocratic fashion. The culture had not been ready for the transition to democracy, especially to an American style of democracy.

In Afghanistan and Iraq, it was even worse. The Western occupation failed to implement sustainable changes for the better in both countries. To this day there are many people saying that the population was better off in the 1990s, before the failed democratization attempts.

Nation-building takes time. It requires engaging the people in a long-term process that will retain the core aspects of the existing culture and work on consolidating institutions that will function in a way that is coherent with the culture. It’s the only way nation-building might work.


  1. Wursten, Huib – The 7 Mental Images of National Culture Leading and managing in a globalized word ISBN-10: 1687633347 ISBN-13: 978-1687633347; 2019
  2. Antunes, Arnaldo: João – Album O Real Resiste, Rio de Janeiro: 2020.
  3. Lanzer, Fernando – Organizational Culture and Climate: Understanding, Maintaining and

       Changing – CreateSpace, New York: 2018.