Thursday, September 27, 2012

Cultural change cannot be avoided

If we simplify people for the sake of argument we can create two groups of people.  Those willing to change.  Those unwilling to change.

In reality everyone is willing to change some things and unwilling to change other things.  Exactly what can be changed varies with the person and the culture that the person is involved in.

Does muching at Mickey D's make people "American"?  Of course not.  If a French person buys a burger that person is still French.  However, food is something the French have identified their culture with so many people in France think the food at Mickey D's disgraces their culture.  Sure, it really sucks and we all know that, but, the United States does not identify their culture with Mickey D's.  We identify our culture with patriotism, freedom, democracy, achievement, high standards of living.  Mickey D's represents achievement in business rather than a high quality of food.  Mickey D's represents the speed at which "Americans" progress.

But people in France don't associate Mickey D's with speed of progress or achievement in business.  Many people associate Mickey D's with crappy food.  Why would anyone want to embrace this garbage?

But cultural change is unavoidable.  Sure, we can make Mickey D's illegal and the next thing you know we have the "War on Burgers" which would be a lot like the "War on Drugs" with hidden butcher shops like we have hidden drug labs.

When cultures come into contact we exchange values, customs, traditions and resources.  Eventually the cultures coming into contact change to the point where they are no longer what they were.  Typically the predominate culture will absorb the sub culture.

So what happens when two predominate cultures clash?  They either destroy each other, absorb each other or one ends up dominating the other.

Take the current clash between Islamic cultures and Western cultures.  I can guarantee that one of these two cultures will predominate the other.  The two cultures have too many mutually exclusive customs and traditions.  Both cultures are dependent on each other in the exchange of resources and as long as the contact exists the conflict will exist.

Which one will predominate the other?  If I have to guess I would say that the Islamic nations were going to eventually dominate Western cultures and eventually Eastern cultures.  That is just an opinion based on my assessment of perseverance and democracy.  The Islamic nations are willing to kill off all opposition culture and the Western nations are not.  The last culture left standing is predominate so ....

Even if each culture closed itself off from the other the economic pressures of co-existence would eventually force them into conflict.

We can't stop cultural change.  We can attempt to manage it.  The founding fathers of the United States attempted to build a constitution which incorporated the ability to plan for cultural change while ensuring specific rights.  Today people are trying to eliminate some of those civil rights, like the right to keep and bare arms :-).

Democracies can change their protected rights, the right to freedom of speech is not the same in the United States and the United Kingdom.  In both places it can be changed to prevent "hate speech" like speaking out against the religion of Islam.

However Islamic Law cannot change to allow speaking out against the religion of Islam.

One culture can change and exist.  The other cannot change and exist.

But cultural change can't be avoided?  Right and the incorporation of the West and East into Islam will result in some changes.  Islam has changed some in the last 1500 years and will change some more, however, there are some things that cannot and will not change because they are fundamental to the culture.

The Catholic church might allow priests to marry again, but, they will not eliminate the Pope.  The Christian church may dress in black or white or red or rainbows but they won't eliminate the Cross.  People may interpret the Bible differently but they won't eliminate the Bible.

Western cultures won't eliminate democracy or constitutions but those constitutions can change because democracies can vote to change them.

When two cultures clash they will change and eventually stabilize into some new form.  What can be changed will change and what cannot change will not change.  If the predominate culture is unwilling to accept the existence of those things that will not change the things that cannot change will be eliminated or be hidden from the predominate culture.

Religion in the U.S.S.R.  Drugs in the United States.  Prostitution almost everywhere.  These things go into hiding because some people want them and other people are unwilling to accept their existence.

There are two prerequisites for elimination or being forced into the "underground".  The first is the unwillingness of the predominate culture to accept the existence of whatever custom, value or tradition is unacceptable.  The second is the unwillingness of those who participate in the unacceptable value, custom or tradition to cease participation.

Openness and cultural change

In my last blog post we looked at a summary of my "world according to Jack" theory ending with the opinion that the most important resource for cultural change is people and the interpersonal trust relationships that they build.

The "problem/desire>solution>acceptance>stability/satisfaction" pathway is the heart of "the world according to Jack" theory.

The second most important resource for cultural change is acceptance of the possibility for change.  The more open and accepting a culture is the more likely it is to undergo changes.  The less open and accepting a culture is the less likely it is to undergo changes.

Change and the openness of a group to the possibility of change is directly linked with the ability or charisma of a presenter of an idea to the group.

Essentially the better someone is at encouraging others to change the less open the group has to be to change.  The more open the group is the less skilled the presenter of change must be to encourage change.

If a group is open to change and there are multiple skillful presenters encouraging mutually exclusive forms of change the group becomes conflicted and stagnates, unable to change.

For cultural change to occur we need a group problem or desire.  We need a presenter of a solution.  We need a group open enough to embrace or accept the presenters solution.  We need the solution to satisfy the desire/problem or improve the group stability.

If the group fails to stabilize or is unsatisfied with the solution the process repeats.

Again people are the most important component in cultural change.

Because change is so dependent on both the openness of the group and the ability of an individual to encourage through either coercion or convincing culture change cannot be predicted in any specific way.

We can predict that sub cultures will change in order to either cooperate with or oppose dominate cultures.

Typically the result of opposition with a dominate culture is the destruction of the sub culture.  An example is the sub culture of the 1960's and early 1970's called the "Hippies" eventually dwindled away feeding into other oppositional sub cultures.

There are times when oppositional sub cultures such as the communists in Viet Nam or the revolutionaries in the United States were able to successfully oppose the predominate cultures they were in opposition to.

The specific outcome of either becoming the predominate culture or being eliminated is so dependent on human variability and the available resources that the longterm outcome is often impossible to predict.

For example some people will claim that the "Hippie" sub culture was not eliminated even though it is not the dominate culture in the United States.  The distinctive forms of dress, hair styles, language and the cultural focus on "peace" that predominated in the "Hippie" sub culture are not currently predominate in the United States.  Many younger people don't even know the word "Hippie". 

People who believe strongly in the cultural values of that sub culture will insist that they have been incorporated into the predominate culture.  When President Bush sent troops into both Afghanistan and Iraq his public approval ratings were in the 90% range.

Today those decisions are regarded differently, however, for a culture focused on the value of "peace" which was central to the "Hippie" sub culture a 90% public approval rating at the time for a President involved in a controversial war tells us quite a lot.

Regardless of the example used to demonstrate the idea or the ability of the individual to objectify their response to an example I stand firmly behind the premise that human variability prevents the possibility of creating a model that will predict cultural change.

Sunday, September 23, 2012


My past several blog posts all relate to cultural anthropology and my theory, “the world according to Jack”. I'm Jack.

My theory starts out with the idea that both people and cultural groups begin with either a problem or a desire which requires a solution. The individual or group utilizes the resources available to create a solution which is acceptable to the individual or the group as a whole.

The most important resource in developing these solutions is the people involved and not the material resources. Material resources are important and yet they are not any where near as important as the individuals involved.

According to “the world according to Jack” people have two basic biological predispositions which are important to this process of implementing cultural solutions. The first is the predisposition to group together to enhance the ability of the group to survive. The second is the predisposition to assure their position within the group to enhance their individual survival.

Specific individuals who have “charisma” will present ideas which are more likely to be accepted by the group even if those ideas are not “technically accurate” or prevent the group from developing technologically.

Consistency is important to developing interpersonal trust issues, although to much consistency can lead to stagnation.

The group acceptance of these ideas becomes important in the survival of individuals within the group. The more important the group believes an individual is to their survival the less likely the group is to abandon that person. Individuals who constantly present ideas which the group rejects will be abandoned or marginalized by the group regardless of the technical accuracy of the presented solutions. This marginalizing reduces the individuals importance to the group which decreases the probability of survival of the individual.

Solutions are created and accepted by people and approved by people regardless of secondary issues such as technical accuracy. The survival of individuals is tied to their ability to provide the group with acceptable solutions.

“Charisma” is a form of interpersonal trust relationship established between individuals. This interpersonal trust relationship between people is the most important issue in the adoption of a presented solution.

There are a lot of different ways that we as a group attempt to define the “charisma” of an individual. Presidential approval ratings are one way. Voting is another.

Sometimes a small group can “bully” a larger majority into the acceptance of a solution using media tools called “propaganda”. Attacks are made ridiculing solutions to groups issues in the attempt to humiliate those who support those solutions.

People will support a solution to an issue and will resist changing that solution until it becomes obvious that the current solution no longer solves the problem/desire that it was meant to solve.

In the end the technical or material resources are far less important in the application of a cultural solution, cultural ritual, cultural law, than the human resources available and the ability of those individuals presenting solutions to establish interpersonal trust relationships with other members of the cultural group.

Interpersonal trust issues, cultural anthropology and the solutions to problems

People love consistency, unless that consistency is something that has rotted away and once people understand that the consistency has become stagnation and rot they will reject the rotten stagnation.

WTF does that mean?

Suppose you put some water in a canteen and take a sip of 1/10th of 1 ounce every week.  How many weeks before the water becomes so disgusting you can't drink it anymore?  Instead of the canteen being a solution to the problem of water storage it has become a problem of stagnation.

Often the solutions become stagnant.  Once more we return to the rejection of the heliocentric universe theorized by Aristarchus and the acceptance of the geocentric universe theorized by Aristotle.

Aristotle's theory eventually became stagnant and was rejected, yet, very few people run around talking about how great Aristarchus's ideas were.  This is because Aristarchus's theories were rejected as "rotten" hundreds of years before Christ.

I am a very inconsistent person, on purpose.  I rarely do anything the same way all the time.  I am constantly stressing myself by changing how I shave, the route I drive to a place, etc.  I develop almost no routines.  Consistency breeds stagnation.

Consistency also encourages trust.  If something is always the same people can trust it to be the same.

Aristotle was usually right so people trusted Aristotle to be right about the universe.

Unfortunately consistency eventually becomes stagnation.  How quickly something "rots" away depends on a bunch of things.  It took almost two thousand years for Aristotle's geocentric theory to "rot" away.

Since scientists seek to have their work trusted they try to be very consistent in what they do and say.

This creates a level of emotional involvement.  If you want to see a temper tantrum just prevent an obsessive person from completing a ritual.  The more obsessive the person is the more of a temper tantrum they will throw because the rituals involved in consistency become emotional.

We HAVE to do those rituals.

We also HAVE to question those rituals constantly or we are no longer scientists, we are religious nut jobs and our religion is the consistent ritual we engage in.

Maybe, like Archimedes, our Ritual is the unwavering support of a scientist we believe in, like Aristotle.

Maybe our ritual is something different.

Maybe our society, our culture, has rituals or consistent actions that it takes as a group which no longer make any sense.  Maybe the argument can be made that those rituals never did make any sense, yet, at some point the group required them because the group believed that they did.  Aristotle's geocentric theory is once again a perfect example.

In hind site it is often easy to see problem rituals.  When we as individuals ,or we as a society, are engaged in those rituals it can be much more difficult to see how ridiculous they are.  History often ridicules "rituals" or "customs" which have fallen out of favor.

We, as people, as cultures, as societies, need to question our "customs" and our "rituals" constantly.  We need to debate them and discuss them.  We don't need to fight about them, but, we will because we become emotionally involved in our rituals and our customs the way Archimedes became emotionally involved in his support of Aristotle and his opposition to Aristarchus.

Our emotions help us trust people.  Consistency helps us build trust in relationships.  Trust is important in the acceptance of cultural solutions and our emotions play a huge part in building that trust.

Emotions and consistency can also become stagnant pools of rotten water which can kill us if we continue to drink it after it turns.

Question emotions.  Question trust.  Question consistency.

Now, these questions won't make you popular.  People will attack and condemn for questioning "truth" as given to us by our authority figures such as our teachers.  Eventually someone else will take credit for your theories the way Copernicus now receives credit for the theories originally postulated by Aristarchus.

Yet we can stir the waters preventing stagnation and even death with our questions and our sacrifice.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Athropology, capitalism and socialism

In previous blogs about "the world according to Jack" I discussed why so many of the theories of cultural development are bogus.  I theorized that the variation in development within various cultures around the world is primarily based on problems and the utilization of resources to solve those problems.

One of the issues people miss with all the self help actualization crap in our post industrial societies is that people are always the most important resource and we need to group together to survive.

Okay so why do people jockey for position within a society?

Lets dump all the self-help pseudo-psychological bullshit about self actualization.

We react to the opinions of others within our social groups because the survival of human beings, more than any other animal, depends on our ability to work together in a group.

Our need for socialization is based on our need to survive.  Our survival as individuals depends on our position within our social group.  This is why we freak out when people treat us badly and why people treat us badly.  Even as children we jockey for our position within our social groups.  In my opinion this is not a learned skill, we have a biological predisposition to socialize  and jockey for position based on our need to group together to survive.

As individuals we have a predisposition to group together.

As individuals within that group we have a predisposition to encourage a group perception of our own importance over others within our group increasing our chances of survival within the group.

As groups and individuals we address perceived problems using resources in ways that the group can accept.

Acceptance of a particular solution is often based on a specific individuals ability to convince a group that solution presented by the individual is "best".

Once a group accepts a solution it will maintain that solution until the group can be convinced that the solution is no longer viable.

So the most important resource is not the technical accuracy of a solution, but, the charismatic ability of the presenter to encourage acceptance of their solution.

In other words, the most important resource is people.

The primary reason, in my opinion (IMO), that Europe jumped past other cultural groups is because Europe became the base of a religious movement willing to accept and educate almost anyone capable of learning and accepting the sovereign position of the religion.  This religious movement collected and educated people for almost a thousand years.  By collecting intelligent people together into specific areas for a very long time the religious group created the conditions necessary for a cultural technological leap.

Kind of ironic because the technological revolution we call the Renaissance actually helped destroy the political influence of the religious group.  Where the solution to many problems had been "religion" it now became "science".  Eventually the problems solved by "religion" or "science" will be solved by something else.

Most of the Cultural Anthropological developmental theories currently focus on resources and cross cultural communications.  They don't focus on the influence of charismatic individuals.

Issac Asimov wrote a book where a mathematician came up with a way of predicting cultural change.  Asimov postulated that a "wild card" in the form of a particularly charismatic individual destroyed the accuracy of these calculations.

I loved that when I was 13 or 14, whenever I read that book.  Total horse crap.

It is always the influence of a particular individual presenting a solution which changes society.

That influence can be technological, however, technological solutions by less than charismatic individuals typically take a long time to become accepted.

Typically solutions provided by charismatic individuals, like the geocentric solution provided by Aristotle, are accepted regardless of technical accuracy.

Individuals can do very little to change a cultural group by themselves so they encourage others to work with them to initiate "change".  If the individual assembles a large enough group initiating change to over come the resistance to change by other groups the change will occur.  If the individual does not encourage or assemble enough people to work with them the change will not occur, regardless of technical accuracy of the solution.

 The existence of these individuals promoting cultural change can be accurately predicted.  The exact solutions which these individuals will support cannot be accurately predicted.

This is why capitalism is preferred by individuals as an economic system, we have a predisposition to enhance our position within the group to increase our chances for survival.

We help each other and defend the group we belong to because we have a predisposition to band together and survive.

There is a parable in Ecclesiastes about a city.  The city was in trouble and no one knew what to do to save the city except for one poor man.  The poor man knew he needed the group to survive so he presented his solution and was ignored.  Eventually in desperation the city used the poor man's solution and was saved.  Afterward they went back to ignoring the poor man.

This is a common story.  Steve Wozniak created a solution and everyone ignored him.  Steve Jobs marketed the solution and became a "great man".  The solution presented by the charismatic person is accepted.  Without the person the group perceives as "successful" or charismatic the solution is ignored irregardless of the accuracy of the solution or how many people the solution is presented to.

A perfect example is me.  I'm the poor guy who wants to help the world become a better place because when the world is better things are better for me too.

I'm not Aristotle, more of a kind of Steve Wozniak, and until my "world according to Jack" torch is taken up by a charismatic presenter and then attributed to that presenter it won't get anywhere.  And when it does become accepted I will be saying, "I wrote that years ago" and will be promptly ignored by the group for some flashy charismatic.

Life would be so much better if we could always identify the "Aristarchus" and the "Aristotle", the one with the correct solution.  Instead we identify the charismatic.

So the bottom line is that people are the most important resource.

People have a predisposition to group together for survival.

People have a predisposition to jockey for position so that their importance to the group will enhance their own chances for survival.

This jockeying creates situations in which the individual presents solutions to cultural problems are presented to and are accepted by the group irregardless of the technical accuracy of the solution.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Technical details versus big picture viewpoints in Anthropology and stuff

In my never ending search for knowledge and my recent studies in Anthropology I am finding something very interesting out about science in general.

Often the “big-picture” theories are easily contested while the technical details are not.

Working with some technologies I found that the most common “mistake” in working with a new technology was an inaccurate assessment of the variability in the output of the technology.

Manufacturing engineering is pretty simple, find out where the largest variability in time or results are and make that part of the process less variable. Mis-characterizing a technology as being less variable that it really is makes the technology more marketable. We often read about similar things concerning the drug industry. A drug is thought to be consistent and when it is released to the public the variability is actually so great that people end up dead.

In Anthropology the same thing is true. Often those studying a specific group of people create an ethnography which is later refined by later researchers. The technical details of the group are refined to become less variable over time.

In humanistic studies the technical details are less specific and not as easily quantifiable as they are in a more technical avocations such as engineering and manufacturing. All groups attempting comparative studies between groups will attempt to develop quantitative data which can be used to compare these groups. In humanistic sciences such as psychology and anthropology this quantitative data is subjective rather than objective. Bottom line, quantifying subjective data is different from quantifying objective data.

If we can agree on the subjective classification of details, and a lot of the time people don't, the technical details accumulated in any science are “facts” and can not be argued with.

As our data grows and we develop conclusions from the data and then use deductive or inductive reasoning to develop theories based on these conclusions we get farther and farther from facts.

My anthropological theory, “the world according to Jack”, is a high level theory on the development of culture. In most cases, like Aristotle and Aristarchus, it is the theory resulting from conclusions after reviewing the technical data which result in conflict between scientists.

Okay, in anthropology and psychology the data is pretty much all subjective so we can argue the technical data also. In this case we will ignore that, mostly because while I am smart enough to question the big-picture theories I do not have the technical expertise to question the subjective data collection. I don't have to be an expert on cars to tell that a car needs work done, there are lots of indicators. I do have to be a technical expert to determine exactly what details must be addressed to accomplish that work.

To give you an idea of how stupid and unreasonable debates about technical theories and detailed data acquisition are I will once again turn to the laughable geocentric vs heliocentric argument which our hero Aristotle won, proving once and for all (or almost two thousand years) that the earth is motionless and the sun revolves around it.

Aristotle put a ball on a string. He placed an object on the ball and then swung the ball around in a circle over his head, using the string. The object flew off the ball.

This was stupid, even for people who had no concept of gravity. Aristotle knew that there was some force which prevented him from jumping off the earth. He attributed it to gravitas or heaviness. Essentially people were too heavy to jump off the earth, but, if subjected to centrifugal force they would fly off the planet. Yeah, planet because Aristotle knew that the Earth was a sphere and that water will find it's own level.

How does water find it's own level on a sphere? This is actually one of the reasons people believed in a flat earth. Not anyone who understood geometry, just people with a very basic understanding of how things work. Imagine trying to explain how water at the bottom of the sphere didn't fall off to a person.

Aristotle knew, from studying shadows (even at sea) that the surface of the Earth was curved and that the surface of the Mediterranean sea curved with it. Why?

There are actually some interesting explanations for this, but, Aristotle was an expert showman so he ignored the things he didn't know in order to supply a culturally acceptable theory based on conclusions from factual data.

Like most scientists Aristotle knew there was stuff missing which he ignored and during debates used ridiculous “experiments” that made crowds laugh in support of him while ridiculing his opponents.

A politician once accused his opponent of monogamous heterosexuality during a debate, asking, “Do you deny that you are a monogamous heterosexual?” The opponent admitted he was and lost the election. This was one of William Randolph Hearst's favorite yellow sheet tricks, “Do you deny that you were ever in a mental institution?” or “Do you deny having sex with a prostitute?” Even today people fall for similar political propaganda.

The technical details are typically ignored in the debate surrounding the conclusions and theories developed from those conclusions.

It is the big-picture stuff that is fun and entertaining. However, developing an opinion on the conclusions from which a theory is developed without understanding the technical basics is the development of an uneducated opinion. Most of us gladly develop uneducated opinions.

On an Internet message board I was discussing evolution and one of the posters explained that he had minored in evolution. I explained that universities didn't give degrees in evolution, either majors or minors. Evolution was an anthropological theory and someone studying evolution would have taken classes in anthropology. Someone else posted a link to a small private college catalog which included a course on “evolution and natural science”. Sometimes I just want to puke at how hard people work at being ignorant.

How many of us develop political opinions without ever reading a single political party platform? Most people I discuss political party platforms with don't know what they are any more than my anonymous debater knew what evolution actually was. These are the basic technical details that I believe are required to develop an opinion.

Personally I would never hazard an opinion on a subject about which I have not studied the basics. This was not always true, in my twenties I was just as ignorant and opinion prone as most people.

I once told someone that the universe had to be either open constantly or intermittently open. He asked why it had to be. I considered this Hearstian question and refused to answer. A technically oriented question seeking a legitimate answer might be “how do you know that?”

One of the laws of physics tells us that a closed system will not gain or lose energy. Here we have a universe with energy in it. How did it get there? The system, like all systems with any energy in it, has to have been open at one point. Since we don't know if the universe is an open or closed system we can only say that the universe must be either intermittently or constantly open.

Open to what? Being religious I would say God. As a scientist I can say that I don't know what our system is open to.

All theories of the universe start with a miracle, here we have stuff. The technical details of physics and matter can't be argued. Okay, the subjective ones can, but, the objective data cannot be argued which is why so many scientists try to make subjective data look objective.

People need classes in statistics to get a B.S. In psychology or anthropology because they have to be able to convert subjective data into something that looks objective. This makes the conclusions look more substantive.

The bottom line is that science is filled with Hearstian stunts like the one Aristotle pulled that are used to argue conclusions and theories, but, properly collected data cannot be argued. Data can be supplemented and conclusions based on the data can change. Those conclusions can change theories. Properly collected data never changes.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Utilization of resources on a cultural basis

Yeah, more crap on anthropology. Not as much fun as ridiculing demophyte politicians, that slavery supporting genocidal political party that still uses the symbol Andrew Jackson used to demonstrate that he was too stubborn to allow those abolitionists change his mind.

Still, I find Anthropology a lot of fun.  Probably for the same reason.

Lets get on with the anthropological use of resources in 'the world according to Jack' theory.

As I mentioned in a previous blog (just typed that out a that a Freudian slip?) some where in the past one of our evolutionary ancestors came up with the psychotic idea of cutting off a dead thing's skin and wrapping themselves up in it.

While I am sure that not every member of whatever group this was rejoiced in this solution they did not oppose it by beating the inventor to death.

Solutions to problems and/or attainable desires must be acceptable to the group.

Some anthropologists believe that many societies did not develop the metallurgical skills necessary for technological development because they did not have much access to metals.

Yeah, not buying that. Copper and iron are plentiful in the United States, specifically in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Maybe, as the Natural Scientists of old believed (including our bigoted professor Darwin), Native Americans were just stupid.

Yeah, not buying that either. I have a different idea.

I think Native Americans were too smart to spend their lives digging under ground or heating and beating rocks into shapes. I think there was probably a lot of cultural or societal pressure not to do anything that stupid. Life was worth living, why dig, heat and pound rocks into shape?

Sure, Native Americans pounded copper and other metals and did some open pit mining. There was probably a cultural or societal preference not to dig big, nasty mines. The open pit mines that were dug were probably about as large as was culturally acceptable in that society.

The old world in Eurasia and Africa had things a little differently. Once some group developed new weapons technology the rest of the groups had to catch up in a never ending arms race that even today goes on.

Our world has developed a cultural resistance to specific technologies in a similar way that I believe other cultures have. Primarily against nuclear, biological and chemical weapons. Some members of our one world culture embrace these technologies. Most members do not and if the news is any indication I believe that, as the ancestors of gorillas probably once beat a group member that cut the skin off a dead thing and wore it, our one world culture will probably destroy those members who insist on using a culturally unacceptable solution.

Sure, lots of people will disagree. Those who think of the psychotic who originally cut the skin from a dead thing and began wearing it as a cultural hero for example. Personally I think the ancestors of gorillas had the right idea. Living naked in a warm region sheltered by trees. Yeah, I'm a bit of a tree hugger. Not too much though because I envy the big game hunters who once bagged elephants and rhino on the plains of Africa. Poachers have made the hunting of such animals unforgivable in my personal ideology. I can, however, envy those who hunted these animals in the late nineteenth century before the population became decimated.

I have mentioned that my beliefs and my desires are not always consistent and that those who want to call me a hypocrite for liking toilet paper as one of mankind's greatest inventions while at the same time detesting the environmental impact of human waste products are welcome to their judgmental opinions.

This is where Aristotle and Aristarchus come into play. Cultural acceptance of solutions is often driven by a charismatic leader regardless of solution accuracy.

In other words a likable person can convince an Eskimo to buy ice cubes while the Eskimo ignores advice from someone who is less likable.

Another way to put this is that politicians often sell us a bill of goods and deliver a fantasy instead of reality.

Aristotle convinced people that the sun revolved around the earth. Aristarchus was sure the earth revolved around the sun, but, people called him an idiot. Welcome to politics and cultural solutions.

Cultural solutions do not have to be “truth” or “accurate” or “best”. Cultural solutions have to be accepted by enough members of the group that the group can utilize the solution irregardless of their accuracy.

Irregardless does not mean without regard, by the way. Irregardless is a non-standard form of regardless. Look it up.

Solutions have to satisfy the group and create some kind of stability.

The geocentric solution offered by Aristotle did both of these. The theory stabilized education for almost two thousand years because it satisfied the group curiosity about the motion of the universe.

If the group accepts a solution and it does not help create stability or provide whatever benefits the group believes the solution should provide the group will reject the solution and seek out a different solution.

The ancestors of gorillas probably decided that the solution of wearing a dead thing's skin did not offer the cultural stability (for lack of a better term) that freezing to death offered.

The ancestors of people did believe the solution of wearing a dead thing's skin offered a culturally stable solution. If you believe in the theory of evolution. Fortunately I don't.

Disagreement does not, in spite of cultural stereotypes and propaganda, indicate opposition. I can disagree with an idea without opposing that idea. I can and will disagree with everyone about something and will agree with no one about everything. Because I disagree with a person or an idea does not mean that I oppose the idea, or research into the idea or concept or the person or whatever.

When an idea, or solution, is offered there are three possible actions that members of the group can take. Agreement, disagreement and apathy. If the disagreement is antipathetic (really strong) the group can literally beat the one who came up with the unacceptable solution to death.

Some people think disagreement is an insult. There is a word for people like this and we will get to that later.

Disagreement and discussion is a method of education. In my opinion people who have an ego so large that they feel they are always right and no one is allowed to disagree with them are morons.

What is really ridiculous is that when I disagree with someone who believes their opinion or theories unimpeachable they accuse me of thinking I know everything. How is that for ridiculous?

When I disagree with people they call me a smart ass, they will say I don't know as much as I think I do, that I think I know everything, etc, etc.

Pretty ridiculous, and very common in almost every documented culture. When I was a child teachers hung paddles on the walls and hit children who disagreed with them. I know because I was the subject of more than one teachers egotistical and corporal defense of their opinions.

As a result of this common behavior children grow up with the idea that people should not disagree with authority and seek to place themselves in a social position where people must not disagree with them. These people will defend themselves, verbally and physically, those who disagree with them. The more egotistical the more vicious the defense.

Many cultures realize this and create methods of arbitration that reduce the potential for violence. Yet, we still encourage children to react disagreeably when people disagree with them. Yeah, I could have said “badly” but I like “disagreeably” in this context.

I think we should encourage disagreements and help children learn to handle disagreements without punishments, even when they disagree with authority figures. Probably not going to happen, ever. Too much egotism and elitism in educational professionals and other authority figures.

So here we are, disagreeing, discussing and developing culturally acceptable solutions that provide increased stability for the group regardless of the technical accuracy of or the availability and application of specific natural resources to those solutions.

Or we beat those offering an offensive solution to death.

So much for evolution.  :-)

In summary every cultural group creates a set of cultural rules that favor presentation of solutions by charismatic presenters regardless of the availability of resources or the technological accuracy of the solutions.

Once a group accepts a specific solution and finds that it eliminates whatever problem or desire it was designed to be a solution for it will oppose alternate solutions to that same problem.  Often violently.

Violence is not a indicator of cultural advancement.  All cultures engage in violence in some ways.  There are no indicators of cultural advancement, there are variations in cultural behavior and resources including technology, natural resources and people.

Some things disgust or are accepted by some individuals and some cultures.  What an individual or a culture finds acceptable or disgusting is not an indicator of advancement or superiority.

So no matter how disgusting I think cutting the skin off a dead thing and wearing it is does not mean that gorillas have a superior culture to humans.

It just looks that way.

Monday, September 10, 2012

increasing group size in cultures

Okay, we have totally dumped the illogical theories on cultural change within groups and accepted without reservation "The world according to Jack" where: problems/desires>resources>solutions>stability/satisfaction.

So why or how does group size influence changes in culture?

Group size is pretty important.  Anthropological theory tells us that the smaller the group the less likely it is to have personal property issues.  Small groups, what Anthropologists call "bands", have very few personal property issues and typically don't think of owning property in the same way that individuals in larger "tribes" do.

I believe this is based on personal relationships between members of groups. Without getting too deep into the relationships individuals have within and between various cultural sub-groups the basic idea is that people believe more in other people than they do in ideas.

Aristarchus developed the heliocentric theory of the universe about 600 years before Christianity actually became a fully organized religion.  His theories were discounted because people believed in Aristotle and his geocentric theories.

This belief in people spreads.  As individuals we tend to accept people who are accepted by people we "know".  If someone we have a positive relationship with, someone we believe in, accepts a person or their theories we will typically accept that person.

The fewer people who believe in a person the less likely their beliefs are to be accepted by the group.

In this case the problem is interpersonal trust and typically we place our trust in people we believe in.  That interpersonal trust relationship is extended from the trust we place in one person to the trust that person places in another person.

If we trust our government and our government tells us that we have to kill Osama Bin Laden to be safe then we all cream for joy when we kill Osama Bin Laden.

Is that good or bad?  Does killing a leader whose tactics we understand actually make us safer?  Will that leader be replaced with another leader whose tactics and strategy we won't understand?

There are no perfect answers to this or similar questions.  There is no "truth" here, just some answers that some people trust more than others.

Some people wanted Osama Bin Laden dead in revenge for 9-11.  Some people feel safer now that OBL is dead.  Others are angry that the intent of the United States laws against the specific targeting of individual national leaders was broke.  OBL was a cultural leader but OBL was not a leader of a country recognized by the United Nations.  The intent of the law against targeting specific individual cultural leaders for assassination was to encourage diplomatic solutions.

Cultural groups exist with or without recognition or permission.  At the beginning of the genocide of Native Americans their cultural groups were not recognized.  When those groups were larger than the invading groups diplomatic solutions were worked out.  As the invading groups increased in size the diplomatic solutions were ignored and cultural values were imposed.

Personally I find a great deal of similarity between the killing Native Americans who opposed the United States and the killing of specific cultural or political groups who currently oppose the United States.  Both groups expected different behaviors from the United States and both groups reacted violently when those expectations were not met.  Both groups developed a lack of trust in the U.S. when the U.S. did not behave as expected.

All of these conflicts revolve around personal trust issues.  Those personal trust issues extend into trust of leadership, trust in the leaders of leaders and so on.

As group size increases individuals within the group have reduced trust relationships.  This causes smaller sub groups to form where people within these sub groups have stronger trust relationships.  These groups form trust relationships with other groups.

Individuals can belong to as many or as few trust groups as they can.

The more rigid the expectations a group has concerning its individual members the more exclusive the group will be.  The less rigid the expectations of the group the more inclusive the group will be.

The lines between individual and group psychology and the anthropology of these small cultural sub groups blur at this point.  Some will believe that the two disciplines complement each other and some will believe that they have opposing ideologies or goals.

In any case I believe that it is the individual trust issues extended into group trust issues that define the trust issues between various cultural and sub-cultural groups.

Trust is based on expectations.  We all have different expectations.  When a person or group or thing behaves as we expect we increase trust.  When a person or group or thing does not behave in the way which we expect them to our level of trust decreases.

Sometimes we cannot even specifically define our expectations.  We only know that our expectations have either been met or not.

 In the 'World According to Jack', trust grows out of expectations and trust is transfered from one entity to another.

Trust and expectations become the basis of most of the inter cultural issues we face in cultural groups.  The remaining issues are related primarily to ecological conditions such as climate and the condition or availability of natural resources.

Those issues are addressed by applying the available resources, primarily human resources, to the issue.


Sunday, September 09, 2012

Cultural change and resources

In my last blog we have dumped the stupidity of failing to understand why cultural changes take place.  We now know that in the world according to Jack (me, although most people call me John I like 'the world according to Jack' better) changes are caused by the group perception of a problem or the group perception of an attainable desire.

But problems are solved differently, why is that?  People, or beings, perceive things differently and apply different solutions.

Supposedly, some millions of years ago, two groups of nearly similar primates handled the same problem differently.  One group handled cold weather by running south and another group handled cold weather by killing something and wearing its skin.  The group that ran south turned into gorillas and chimpanzees and the group that killed stuff became us.

This is a simplification and a paraphrasing of what may have happened, but, correct in the essential ideology behind the concept of evolution.

So what was the difference between these two groups?  Why didn't they solve the problem the same way?


The first probable resource would be some charismatic leaders.  One convinced their people to run when it began getting cold.  The other convinced people to stay.

The second probable resource was a psychotic nutcase (in our current slang) who came up with the idea of killing something and wearing its skin.  If my previous assumptions are in the right ball park those killed were probably members of the same group.  So what probably happened is some psycho killed a member of their family, or the member was killed in some way, and the psycho used a rock to skin that person and wear their skin.

Yeah, our species "evolved" from that.  Maybe, remember that I'm a Christian so I think God placed us here on Earth some time ago (no particular time frame go shove that stupidity) and the worst among us came up with wearing people's skins for as a solution to their particular form of a problem, not for survival.

In any case the theory of evolution is a valid scientific theory and well worth spending time on.  I couldn't be a physical anthropologist because I have a problem thinking of one being killing another and wearing its skin as anything except kind of sick.  And yes, I own leather and I even have a military hood with a wolf fur trim around the hood.  Hypocritical I know.  There is a big difference between picking something out at an Army surplus store and killing something, hacking off its skin and wearing it.

Back to resources.  In my opinion the members of the species that ran south were probably the more intelligent and more physically active of the two groups.  Yet, we as a species, probably evolved from the second group that procrastinated and used the resource of dead things and their skin.

Lots of circumstantial evidence for that idea around.  As a species we are constantly talking about labor saving devices and improving productivity using the resources we have available.

The group that ran south evolved in a different way because once they were in a warmer climate they didn't have a problem that required cutting off somethings skin and wearing it.  Truthfully, the group that evolved into gorillas probably never even considered that as an option and they still don't.

That is the point.  A being has to recognize a problem, have resources available and come up with a solution that applies the usage of particular resources to a particular problem.

So the world ends, zombies crawl out of the wood work and millions starve to death because they can't eat foods that are past their expiration date.  Essentially they will starve to death because the societal or cultural taboo on eating foods past their expiration date is stronger than that individuals will to survive.

The ancestors of gorillas probably never conceived of wearing a dead somethings skin which is why they evolved into a fairly peaceful species of hunter gatherers which lives in harmony with the environment that our species spends its time destroying.

Our ancestors, on the other hand, found the idea of wearing a dead somethings skin preferable to being cold which is why we evolved into something that spends most of its time destroying other things and the rest of its time whining about it.

Different groups solve problems differently because they have different resources.  These resources include different ideas from different individuals within the group and the group acceptance of these ideas.

Did some gorilla ancestor some millions of years ago decide for some reason to wear some dead thing's skin?  I think they probably did and I think the group probably found the idea so abhorrent that, as a group, they took the unheard of action in beating that individual to death.  The ancestors of gorillas probably did not think any problem could be solved by wearing some dead thing's skin.

The group that eventually evolved into gorillas rejected the concept of wearing some dead thing's skin.

We have seen similar things in our history.  Aristotle (again with geocentric versus heliocentric!  shut up already, we get it!) comes up with the idea of a geocentric universe and the idea that the great Aristotle could be wrong is so abhorrent that not only do we kill people who disagree we blame the whole adoption of the idea of killing people who disagree with the great Aristotle on a religion that wasn't even organized until about 600 hundred years after his death.

In fact, hardly anyone tells anyone how stupid Aristotle must have been to believe in a geocentric universe.  People are still telling each other how great Aristotle was and hardly anyone ever talks about Aristarchus.

 The group perceived a problem or believed that understanding the motion of the universe was an attainable desire.  The group had access to a charismatic and intelligent person as a resource.  The group used that resource to create a solution to their perceived problem/desire.

Was the solution correct?  I think everyone agrees that the geocentric model is incorrect from anything other than a relativistic viewpoint.  Yet the solution was accepted by the group and defended against challengers.

Problem/desire >>>resources >>> Solution >>>> Group satisfaction (sans Mick Jagger) and stability

Notice that the solution does not have to be "correct" it only has to satisfy the desire/problem that the group perceives.

If the solution is not satisfactory to everyone the group may split or even kill each other to determine who is "correct" in their evaluation of the solution.

All this anthropology stuff is pretty simple from a high level overview and it really amazes me that this Theory of Jack, as I call it, wasn't adopted hundreds of years ago.

The tough stuff in every discipline is not the high level overview though.  The tough stuff is in the details.  I can explain how to use a vertical knee mill to someone in minutes.  It takes years to develop the skills to work on complex pieces.  I imagine the tough stuff in Cultural Anthropology is in the field work, ethnography, etc.

I'm better with theory although I am pretty good in the technical application of theory I kind of suck in the humanistic application of theory.

I therefore imagine that while I find high level, broad stroke technical theories easy to review and develop most anthropologists are more comfortable with focusing on the humanistic details which is why the Theory of Jack, the problem/desire>resources>solution>satisfaction theory, has not been applied.

And yeah, I call it the Theory of Jack as humorist twist on the idea, "you don't know Jack" which could be applied to both the student and the teacher.

Amazingly we all find ourselves in both of those roles throughout our lives because sometimes our problems are solved or our desires are satisfied by being the student.  Other times those problems and desires are solved by being the teacher.

Friday, September 07, 2012

Anthropology and Common Sense

Recently I decided to go back to school and get a degree in Anthropology. There are a lot of historical and anthropological theories that don't make a lot of sense.

For example, what motivates cultural change? The most basic answer is Problems. Desire is also a motivator, although within groups the group typically reacts to problems rather than goals. In my experience it takes a very charismatic leader to motivate a group to achieve a goal. Motivating a group to avoid a common problem is much easier. This is why politicians engage in attack politics; it is easier to group people together if they share the perception of a common problem.

Why didn't the stone age people of the Americas invent the wheel? The reality is that they probably did create wooden rollers that were much more difficult to build and use than skid technology so the rollers were abandoned except in very specific circumstances. For the most part a man or dog dragging a travois was easier to build and use than a wheel. In rough or soft ground wheels become stuck easily which is why tracks are common on construction equipment. The wheel was more of a problem for the people of the Americas than skid technology which never becomes stuck in the mud.

Problems must be solved. In a group the majority of the group must perceive a problem in order to create a group solution. Desires can be satisfied. In a group the majority of the group must share a desire and believe it can be attained to satisfy a desire.

Groups act or create customs, laws and rituals in order to solve what the group perceives as a problem or to satisfy what the group perceives as an attainable desire.

This is essentially the theory of evolution, the members of a species that respond “best” to a problem live and those that respond “badly” to a problem die. The weather begins to turn cold so either those who run south fastest live or those who can control their environment, fire, shelter, clothes, live.

This is basic common sense stuff, but, open up a text book on Cultural Anthropology and read a bunch of different theories on the development of culture that make almost no sense. It boggles the mind.

Different cultures develop differently because of different conditions. These conditions can be anything from climate to charismatic leaders. Aristotle proposed the idea of the geocentric universe and was so charismatic that almost two thousand years later people were torturing and killing those that disagreed with Aristotle's theories.

Aristotle solved what some people believed was a problem. That solution became so important to so many that they were willing to kill to support it. I think that is pretty crazy, but, it still happens today. People adopt ideologies from charismatic leaders and those people are willing to kill others to maintain that ideology over all other ideologies.

In these cases the problem is ideological as opposed to physical. Who cares if the sun goes around the earth or the earth goes around the sun as long as crops grow, children are born healthy and people can enjoy the warmth of the sun?

In reality the sun going around the earth or the earth going around the sun is relative to the observers position. Einstein proved this issue of relativity. Yet rather than accept the relativistic viewpoint people will kill each other over what they perceive to be the “truth”. We could accept that our position on Earth makes the motion of the sun relative to us OR we can insist that motion is relative to some arbitrary point calculated as “galactic center” (per Doctor Who) or the center of the universe.

This relativity is only a problem if we perceive it as one, and it seems we do. As cultures we fight, torture and kill each other over acceptance of these relative viewpoints. Could anything people do be more ridiculous?

Cultures react to the perception of common problems or the attainability of common desires.

Before Aristotle began teaching his geocentric view of the universe, and even after, did it really matter in the distribution and utilization of cultural resources? Does it matter today if we take a relativistic viewpoint from our location or a different arbitrary location? If people in a group don't perceive this “truth” as either a problem or an attainable desire the idea becomes irrelevant.

Anthropologists Pascal Boyer and Scott Atran believe that humans have a predisposition for religion. I think that is actually horsecrap. I think humans have a predisposition to seek out answers to questions or solutions to problems or solutions to desires. Religion often provides these solutions, as does science.

The question of whether these solutions are delusional or not I will leave to another time, although I will state categorically that I do not believe faith based solutions are delusional. I did say I would leave the question until later, not that I would leave the answer to that question until later. The illiterate will assume that both statements have the same meaning and yet they are very different. The literate among readers will also notice that I wrote “solutions are delusional” and not “religious solutions are delusional”.

So why Anthropology? Because there is so much horsecrap that has nothing to do with common sense and everything to do with academics blathering about, beating their chests and patting themselves on the back. In fact, it is a lot like every group based scientific endeavor I have ever been involved with.

“Just a sec John, you just pointed out the ridiculousness of killing over an idea that, relativistically, is true from both perspectives. Why not just accept that other things can be relativistically true from alternate perspectives?”

Excellent question oh wise and literate reader. Because we learn through disagreement and discussion. Devolving a disagreement into torture, murder, war, etc is ridiculous. Sure, all of us get emotional about a subject and will become angry and offended when people disagree with us. We will call each other names and tell others the person or people who disagrees with us is/are delusional.

In working on advanced manufacturing science projects I found it easier to work with and advance when I worked with people to whom English was a second language. These people focused more on content, the message rather than the messenger or the wrappings of the message.

I think we need to focus on basics. The message rather than the envelope and paper, metaphorically speaking.

In my opinion the development of culture is easy to track. Just look at the peoples perception of problems and attainable desires; everything comes together.

Addendum:  Re-reading this it occurs to me that some people won't understand the relationship between cultural change occurring as a response to a perceived problem, the hard wired predisposition to seek solutions and killing people over a relativistic issue like geocentric versus heliocentric universe.  I will bet that skipped right over some people's heads.  It has to do with how egotistical people are about a solution.  Aristotle solved the "problem" by "proving" the geocentric universe theory.  When people like Aristarchus presented the heliocentric theory guys like Archimedes called Aristarchus an idiot (paraphrased).  Some people in some cultures place so much importance on their solutions they are willing to torture and murder to protect their solution.
 The issue of a specific relativistic center is an example of the perception of a problem and the acceptance of a specific solution and how those issues are of primary significance in cultural change.
The way a culture or cultural group handles the perception of a problem and/or desire and the perception of a/the solution defines the group.

Thursday, September 06, 2012

Evolution and Stupidity

The concept of “evolution”, that species adapt to changes in order to survive requires that changes occur slowly over a very long time. The more simplistic an organism is the more quickly it can adapt to changes. The more complex an organism is the longer the time it will take to adapt.

Sharks do not adapt. Apparently they are the perfect species remaining essentially unchanged for millions of years.

Personally, I find that unlikely, however, it does create the potential for an interesting concept.

If we assume that biological or physical change, what we call evolution, is driven by a need to adapt to changing conditions then we can assume that the minimal changes which Sharks have undergone are a response to minimal changes in the conditions to which sharks respond to.

Sharks have not changed because the environment in which they live has not changed.

If this is true we can also assume that the physical adaptability of humans to their environment would also minimize the potential for biological change or “evolution”.

Personally I think the term “evolution” is kind of dumb. The term implies the subjective ideology of “improvement” to a species. If biological evolution of humans is an accurate theory then it is possible for a species to change in a way I would subjectively consider negative, or “devolve”. But, whatever.

Biological and physical anthropology make the assumption that primates evolved along varying paths in response to changes.

I wonder. Lets speculate. Thousands of years ago in a region where primates lived it became cold. Some primates ran, migrating to escape the cold. Some killed animals or other primates and wore their skins to stay warm improving their chances for survival as they migrated. Possible? Sure. An improvement? That would be a subjective interpretation of the possibilities.

In engineering we only do one thing. Solve problems. People buy solutions. No problem, no solution, no product, no sales.

Boredom is a problem. Entertainment is a solution.

Freezing is a problem. Clothing, fire and shelter are solutions.

A typical deer is more than a match for an unarmed primate. Larger animals with heavier, warmer skins require team work to hunt. Team work requires communications skills.

Did cold weather challenge some primates in a different way? Did some primates just keep migrating away from cold while others developed the skills to hunt, build fires and communicate so they could live in colder climates?

Gorillas typically do not build huts even though they seek shelter. Obviously by seeking shelter from the rain they indicate that they perceive rain as a problem and shelter as a solution. Gorillas have apparently decided that the available shelter is an adequate solution to their problem.

Different members of the same species have a different attitude toward the same or similar problems.

In fact, as societies we defer to people or groups who have very rigid demands. Alpha males typically either beat or charm those about them into submission and deference. As societies we then defer to the Alpha or leaders attitude toward a problem. How does that attitude toward a problem encourage biological or physical change? Do people become more “charismatic”? Do people become more likely to be followers instead of innovators?

Is there any evidence at all that people have become more or less aggressive in the last few thousand years? Is there any evidence that modern humans are “more evolved” than say, ancient Egyptians?

I don't believe so. Why not? Did humans become so physically adaptable that “evolutionary” change became minimal? Why didn't we stop at Neanderthal? Why didn't we stop at Cro-Magnon?

What problems could there have been that encouraged biological or physical solutions in primates?

For me there are way too many unanswered questions. I am a Christian and I can adopt a faith based position. As a scientist it is much more difficult for me to jump on a band wagon. Sure, “evolution” or biological adaptation to a change in conditions sounds reasonable. BUT what conditions cause a primate to become driven to kill for selfish, even narcissistic, reasons? What conditions cause a primate to become unsatisfied with sitting under a tree to get out of the rain?

More likely the drive to kill and seek alternate shelter was driven by a “devolution”, an inability to survive. Gorillas might seek alternate shelter if they believed they would die otherwise. A gorilla like primate may kill a deer, not from hunger, because it desires the skin of the deer as protection from the elements. A group of gorilla like primates may develop rudimentary communications skills so they can hunt and kill larger animals.

Did humans “evolve” because they were weaker than other other primates? Because they devolved from a previously successful primate that existed easily without seeking complex shelters or killing?

This is counter intuitive to Darwin's “the strong survive” ideology. Strength is a subjective term, and opinion. It requires a comparative analysis or a unit of measurement to be objective.

In my opinion then the concept of evolution is subjective, not objective.

I look at a picture of a gorilla sitting under a tree in the rain and I look at a picture of people building a sky scrapper and I ask myself, “have we “evolved” or did the gorilla “evolve?” Which species takes advantage of harmony with its environment?

Which species has adapted successfully?  Which is stronger?