Sun, Jan 22, 2012 - Page 8 News List


Understanding culture

It is all but impossible to understand cultural issues by looking at them from a personal perspective, as we just come up with emotional responses that always happen to be in our own favor.

We can, by looking at history and behavioral patterns common to all cultures, see what is happening. Humans are pack animals by nature, we respond to hierarchy and common needs to make us work together — it is the only way we could bring down a mammoth with sticks and stones.

The problem with intelligence is the development of imagination, the ability to create a sense of reality based on what you perceive from your senses and emotions.

The mathematics of culture and religion has only recently been shown to be the same, they are both fractal and rely on a feedback system with a very small amount of change introduced with every iteration. This produces self-similarity, but an ever-evolving pattern which is never exactly the same. All cultures are very different, but have the same structural patterns.

To see what is going on, try looking from an outside or opposite perspective, eg, if you think you can change people’s cultural behavior by scolding them in public, think again. Imagine standing outside a McDonald’s in New York and reminding people that they are feeding their children junk that will kill large numbers of them later in life. It would not go down well at all: People already know what they are doing.

We kill our children, but believe we have the right to do so because everybody else is doing it. The fashion and advertising industries depend on such conformity. To show how much trouble our tribal perspective causes, reflect on the terrible cost in human life caused by wars which were based upon a perceived threat.

World War I and the Vietnam War are two such examples. Killing one person is a crime, but killing millions is a foreign policy mistake — until war is seen as a criminal mismanagement of human life, these mistakes will continue. Because we are programmed to see everything in our own favor, it perverts our sense of reason to such an extent that we see nothing else.

The Human Genome project has shown without doubt that there is only one human race. The differences between us are only in our heads; our DNA makes us believe in them so much that we give ourselves the right to kill others we “know” to be wrong.

They are very powerful forces which, like gods and ghosts, produce real fears and beliefs. A sense of logic is our only tool against unreasoned emotion. When living in another culture it is very important to remember that all the imagined forces at work produce very real emotion, and a sensitivity toward them will serve you well.

Peter Cook

Greater Taichung

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