Chomsky on Diaperology

An amusing excerpt from Chomsky’s Understanding Power (footnote also reproduced):

In the late 1940s, the United States just ran [the U.N.] completely — international relations of power were such that the U.S. just gave the orders and everybody followed, because the rest of the world was smashed up and starving after the Second World War. And at the time, everybody here [in the U.S.] loved the U.N., because it always went along with us: every way we told countries to vote, they voted. Actually, when I was a graduate student around 1950, major social scientists, people like Margaret Mead, were trying to explain why the Russians were always saying “no” at the U.N. — because here was the United States putting through these resolutions and everybody was voting “yes,” then the Russians would stand up and say “no.” So of course they went to the experts, the social scientists, to figure it out. And what they came up with was something we used to call “diaperology”; the conclusion was, the reason the Russians always say “no” at the U.N. is because they raise their infants with swaddling clothes… Literally — they raise their infants with swaddling clothes in Russia, so Russians end up very negative, and by the time they make it to the U.N. all they want to do is say “no” all the time. That was literally proposed, people took it seriously, there were articles in the journals about it, and so on.1

  1. For “diaperology,” see for example, Margaret Mead, “What Makes The Soviet Character?,” Natural History, September 1951, pp. 296f. An excerpt: “The Russian baby was swaddled, as were most of the infants of Eastern peoples and as Western European infants used to be, but they were swaddled tighter and longer than were, for example, their neighbors, the Poles… This early period seems to have left a stronger impression on Russian character than the same period of learning does for members of many other societies in which the parents are more preoccupied with teaching skills appropriate to later stages of development… So we find in traditional Russian character elaborated forms of these very early learnings. There is a tendency to confuse thought and action, a capacity for impersonal anger as at the constriction of the swaddling bands… We may expect everything we do to look different to them from the way it looks to us… In communicating with people who think as differently as this, successful plans either for limited co-operation in the attainment of partial world goals or for active opposition depend upon our getting an accurate estimate of what the Soviet people of today are like. We must know just what the differences in their thinking and feeling are.” []

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