Friday, November 30, 2007

The Age of Crushed Skulls (Update!!!!)

This is a follow-up to the last blog of this title and appeared on my other blog on Monday, December 11, 2006.

Forgive that these blogs are, at best, a long aphorism. They are bread crumbs I'm leaving as I think about culture and its transmission. There's something, in my xin (heart-and-mind) that tells me that how we understand dogs, the history of the peoples of the Silk Road, and prehistory says much more about who we are today than what it says about any of those topics.

Follow the above link to read about a recently published article discussing the evolution of homo sapiens sapiens.

In the original "Age of Crushed Skulls" scenario I briefly alluded to technology and reproduction, i.e. those with technology reproduced because they crushed others' skulls.

Furthermore, I was trying to suggest in the previous edition that culture itself is THE technology that you gotta get behind. What? Why? See the above article.

It seems that the ability to digest milk (by not allowing the lactase enzyme to be "turned off") is a result of environmental pressures. Those who "became" pastoralists were able to have more energy resources available to them than were those who were unable to consume the milk of the cattle. In fact, they lost valuable water with diarrhea whereas those who were lactose tolerant had more water and the sugar-energy available by breaking down the milk.

Also of note, the "Funnel Beaker" culture of northern Europe seems to be tremendously successful in maintaining this trait to this day (where something on the order of 99% of Swedes are lactose tolerant today).

Why is this of any significance? Typically the social sciences (including political science and economics) think of culture in terms of largely stagnant pools. So, saying something like, "Those Iraqis are not ready for democracy," or more scarily assuming that democracy is something "we" got and they don't know they want. This stagnant pools idea which tends to guide institutional thinking assumes a fixity of identity within the objects being observed.

The objects being observed are in this case pastoralists, industrialists, nomads, gatherer/hunters, etc. It is assumed that the mode of economic production (being a farmer, being a ceo of a multinational company, being a shepherd) largely determines "why" people act the way they do.

I kinda resist this thinking, though, because it's kinda puttin the cart before the horse. What I mean is this: people are more or less co-conspirators in their environment and are the deliberated, mutually-influencing product of this exchange. That is, you're not really born a pastoralist or a ceo; you're born a culture-producing machine. Given the appropriate resources, any schnuck could be an astronaut, or a sherpa. (Plainly I am broadly conceptualizing resources here, but that's the thrust of my thinking here).

If it's the case that people have always been dumb and lazy, with brilliant examples generously sprinkled throughout for countermeasure, then there really shouldn't be any kind of talk of violence between peoples as a natural result of who they are. I'm trying to work through what Zizek was writing about last year after the riots in paris and new orleans and iraq.

More later...

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