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Is culture really all about terror management?

 
 
Setanta
 
  1  
Reply Sun 27 Dec, 2015 05:21 am
I saw this question shortly after you posted it, and i've given it a fair amount of thought since then. Jared Diamond has said that whenever tribesmen of Papua-New Guinea encounter other tribesmen from different tribes, they immediately attempt to murder them. In Leviathan, Hobbes seems to extract that attitude as a general principle:

During the time men live without a common power to keep them all in awe, they are in that conditions called war; and such a war, as if of every man, against every man.

To this war of every man against every man, this also in consequent; that nothing can be unjust. The notions of right and wrong, justice and injustice have there no place. Where there is no common power, there is no law, where no law, no injustice. Force, and fraud, are in war the cardinal virtues.

No arts; no letters; no society; and which is worst of all, continual fear, and danger of violent death: and the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short.


However, i have a problem, which i often have with alleged sciences such as psychology and sociology, in that they often appear to be playing word games. Furthermore, researchers in these disciplines seem often to propose an hypothesis which they then set out to prove, to the exclusion of any other explanations which are not consonant with the hypothesis. So i would first object to the word terror, which means extreme fear. To fear one's newly encountered neighbor who is immediately recognizable by their apparent differences might well be that discretion which is said to be the better part of valor. That would be being wary, but not necessarily living in a state of terror, of extreme fear.

The Jamestown colony was established in 1607, and initially enjoyed good relations with their indigenous neighbors, who helped to feed the largely inept settlers (who seemed to think they could come over, pick up gold lying about on the ground and make their fortunes--farmers they were not). This changed rather quickly, though. The region was experiencing a severe and protracted drought, and the aboriginals probably became alarmed at the thought of being obliged to continue to feed the colonists. Warfare broke out, and the local tribe was exterminated in about three years time.

The so-called pilgrims established an unauthorized colony on what they called Plymouth Bay in 1620. Leaving aside all the silly historical myth, it does appear that they, too, received food and other assistance from their aboriginal neighbors. Samuel Maverick established a homestead at what would become Salem in 1630, and a few months later, John Winthrop arrived to establish the official colony. Their neighbors were various tribes of Algonquian-speaking aboriginals, and they, too, lived in peace with their weird, stinky new neighbors (as a rule, the English were not fond of bathing). However, the Puritans decided to convert the Pequot, who at first ignored them, and then became irritated and drove them off. In good christian style, the Puritans then began a war of extermination. At first, they had the aid of the Narragansett, some of whom had converted, but they became appalled and disgusted at the indiscriminate slaughter, and withdrew from the alliance. Naturally, as they were clearly limbs of Satan, the Puritans attempted to exterminate them, too.

Farther to the north, Samuel de Champlain stared a colony at what would become Québec in 1608. His neighbors were also Algonquian-speakers, the Ottawa. They enjoyed good relations with the French throughout the slightly more than 150 years of the French colony. The Huron and the Algonquian-speaking tribes around Lakes Erie and Ontario also traded peacefully with the Dutch, who established their first colony at Albany in 1614. To my mind, all of this is good evidence that the Algonquian-speaking peoples neither feared the Europeans they encountered nor were hostile toward them. I say this because of their reception of the French, the Dutch and the English. (The case with the Iroquois Confederacy, an alliance of tribes of the Huron-Iroquoian language and cultural group, is quite different, and stems from an apparent antipathy the Iroquois had for the Algonquian-speaking tribes. The tale is not germane here.)

It seems to me that this TTM is a case of jargon run amok, with a group of people so enamored of their ideas that they have neither given any thought to the implications of what they are saying, nor the lessons of history, our only source for how tribesmen behave when they encounter one another (for surely the French, the Dutch and the English were tribesmen just as were their unfortunate neighbors). In fact, it seems a variation on the killer ape thesis so popular in the mid-20th century. If all humans were so predictably suspicious and hostile, how did the human race survive? If the Harvard geneticists who published their findings a few years back are correct, then there were no more than 10,000 and maybe as few as 1000 humans on the planet 30,000 years ago. How then did they survive and prosper, if this view of culture is correct? Why did they not exterminate one another?
layman
 
  1  
Reply Sun 27 Dec, 2015 05:54 am
@FBM,
Quote:
Working with a simple definition of culture:


Culture doesn't cure terror, it inspires it.

Quote:
When I hear the word "culture," I reach for my Luger. (Goering)
0 Replies
 
FBM
 
  1  
Reply Sun 27 Dec, 2015 05:58 am
@Setanta,
The terror they're referring to, though, isn't terror at the sight of someone different. It's terror at the prospect of one's own (and loved ones'?) annihilation at death. I don't think they even claim that everyone experiences that, just the majority. Until they get it managed, anyway. I haven't put much stock in Hobbe's "solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short" in years. Solitary? No, in-group cooperation in bands, troupes and tribes at the very least. When resources were plentiful, probably out-group cooperation, too, as war is costly for all sides. Poor? Only if you measure wealth in monetary terms, maybe. Nasty? I kinda doubt that, too. Short? Well, you probably got me there.
layman
 
  0  
Reply Sun 27 Dec, 2015 06:19 am
@FBM,
FBM wrote:

I was also thinking that both out-group aggression and in-group cooperation could both be linked to tribal competition for resources. Seems reasonable that both would be naturally selected for over time.


I love Kipling's "Just So" stories. Unfortunately, he aint around to write no more of them.

That's cool, though. You can pick up hundreds of new ones online by listening to people who invoke "natural selection" as their muse, ya know?
0 Replies
 
Setanta
 
  1  
Reply Sun 27 Dec, 2015 06:44 am
@FBM,
I only mentioned Hobbes because of the emphasis on aggression and fear of the the other. I was relating that to Diamond's claim that tribesmen from different tribes in P-NG automatically attempt to murder one another. If you were a member of a band of 20 or 30 humans in the vastness of Eurasia or Africa tens of thousands of years ago, i'd say solitary was a pretty good description. How long would it take you to get sick of the company of a dozen other adults and prefer solitude to "the madding crowd?" As for nasty, i really don't know why anyone would dispute that. Hag-ridden by fleas, ticks and lice, rarely able to bathe, possessing few garments, eating whatever came to hand and subsisting in the winter on what few foods could reliably be stored, subject to the depredations of rodents, other small mammals and insects? I'd call that nasty. As for brutish, i don't think we can ever know, although i do think that goes too far. Short it definitely would be. As recently as the late 19th century, people could not hope to live much past 60, and that was a serious improvement on the late 18th century. Infant and child mortality even in 1900 ran about 50%. When John Keats was my age, he'd been dead for 40 years. But as i said, i was only linking that to Diamond's claim.

This is the portion of the précis in the OP which you yourself bold-faced:

Quote:
Why do people have such a great need to feel good about themselves?; and Why do people have so much trouble getting along with those different from themselves?

The basic gist of the theory is that humans are motivated to quell the potential for terror inherent in the human awareness of vulnerability and mortality by investing in cultural belief systems (or worldviews) that imbue life with meaning, and the individuals who subscribe to them with significance (or self-esteem).


The post to which you responded itself responded to the claim of terror inherent in an awareness of vulnerability. I had planned another post on the issue of fear of self-annihilation. But i'll keep it brief. Religion seems to be what mankind has developed to deal with that. Cultures all over the world have had a belief in a spirit world to which one is translated after death, and there seems to have been no other form of "religion" in ancient China. Shamanism seems to have succeeded the belief in a spirit world, and very likely was an attempt to regularize and make comprehensible such a notion of a spirit world. This was succeed by organized religion, and it's been downhill ever since. Religion is certainly not all of culture, and, in my view, has not been a very important aspect of culture until quite recently in human history. I think this is a classic case of make a mountain out of a mole hill, despite their more than 300 studies, which i suspect was an exercise in "yup, see here, we were right!"

EDIT: Self-annihilation was an inept phrase for me to have used. What i was referring to is the fear of the annihilation of the self.
FBM
 
  1  
Reply Sun 27 Dec, 2015 07:16 am
@Setanta,
Setanta wrote:

...If you were a member of a band of 20 or 30 humans in the vastness of Eurasia or Africa tens of thousands of years ago, i'd say solitary was a pretty good description. How long would it take you to get sick of the company of a dozen other adults and prefer solitude to "the madding crowd?"


Well, the psychology of that situation doesn't seem clear-cut to me. Being sick of a limited number of companions seems only likely if you'd had access to friendly alternatives. Otherwise, the terrifying prospects of being truly alone in the jungle or on the steppes, with no support, left to one's own devices, would seem to outweigh having to put up with Uncle Ugg's fart jokes around the campfire every night.

Quote:
As for nasty, i really don't know why anyone would dispute that. Hag-ridden by fleas, ticks and lice, rarely able to bathe, possessing few garments, eating whatever came to hand and subsisting in the winter on what few foods could reliably be stored, subject to the depredations of rodents, other small mammals and insects? I'd call that nasty.


Those images bring to my mind early city-states, rather than the nomadic, hunter-gather lifestyle. I could be wrong, but when I look at the remaining hunter-gathers, I don't see anything particularly nasty about it.

Quote:
As for brutish, i don't think we can ever know, although i do think that goes too far. Short it definitely would be. As recently as the late 19th century, people could not hope to live much past 60, and that was a serious improvement on the late 18th century. Infant and child mortality even in 1900 ran about 50%. When John Keats was my age, he'd been dead for 40 years. But as i said, i was only linking that to Diamond's claim.


I'm not sure what Hobbes had in mind with the word "brutish," so I'll abstain from this vote. Short is hardly deniable, but that was pretty much the norm until Fleming and penicillin, I think.

Quote:
This is the portion of the précis in the OP which you yourself bold-faced:

Quote:
Why do people have such a great need to feel good about themselves?; and Why do people have so much trouble getting along with those different from themselves?

The basic gist of the theory is that humans are motivated to quell the potential for terror inherent in the human awareness of vulnerability and mortality by investing in cultural belief systems (or worldviews) that imbue life with meaning, and the individuals who subscribe to them with significance (or self-esteem).


The post to which you responded itself responded to the claim of terror inherent in an awareness of vulnerability. I had planned another post on the issue of fear of self-annihilation. But i'll keep it brief. Religion seems to be what mankind has developed to deal with that. Cultures all over the world have had a belief in a spirit world to which one is translated after death, and there seems to have been no other form of "religion" in ancient China. Shamanism seems to have succeeded the belief in a spirit world, and very likely was an attempt to regularize and make comprehensible such a notion of a spirit world. This was succeed by organized religion, and it's been downhill ever since. Religion is certainly not all of culture, and, in my view, has not been a very important aspect of culture until quite recently in human history.


Religious Daoism focused more on earthly immortality, but that's probably splitting hairs at this point. Escaping death is escaping death, no matter what the alleged venue. But, yeah, I mean, religion is pretty much the ultimate expression of escapism.

Quote:
I think this is a classic case of make a mountain out of a mole hill, despite their more than 300 studies, which i suspect was an exercise in "yup, see here, we were right!"


I wouldn't even begin to deny the possibility. A helluva lot of academic publication is the annual struggle to retain tenure by publishing something, anything, to get them points. As for the TMT experiments, I'll have to keep on reading tomorrowish. I woke up with a fever and headache this a.m. Didn't do any further reading on it. Surprised I was able to write this much.
Setanta
 
  1  
Reply Sun 27 Dec, 2015 07:39 am
@FBM,
I think you're largely engaged in argument for argument's sake here as far as Hobbe's statement. You don't like it? Ignore it. I will observe, however, that our improved life expectancy and especially that of our children is a product of the automobile and not of any particular scientist. The end of horse manure in the streets had an immediate and dramatic effect on everyone's life expectancy.

I think you overrate the influence of Daoism. Most Chinese (properly speaking, Han) were illiterate for most of the history of that people. It's influence was probably from going down to the market place and paying someone literate to throw the yarrow sticks and consult the I Ching. I do find that they were wonderfully superstitious, and providential. Early travelers to China, and especially the Jesuits, describe the common people keeping a shrine to the ancestors (the source of whatever prosperity they then enjoyed), flanked by alters with christian symbols, Jewish symbols and Muslim symbols. Marco Polo recounts about every region he visited the predominance of religion--and it always includes Christians, Jews and Saracens (i.e., Muslims). He lumps everyone else under the rubric "Pagans." It seems to me that the common people were hedging their bets in a sort of extended Pascal's wager.
FBM
 
  1  
Reply Sun 27 Dec, 2015 07:57 am
@Setanta,
1) Just sharing my take on Hobbes. Not trying to recruit.
2) Same with Fleming.
3) Didn't say anything regarding the influence of (religious) Daoism, and not sure how literacy plays into it.
4) Agree with the Pascal's wager bit.

I think creating a hole in my skull might be the way to deal with this headache. Nail or drill bit? Have both on hand. Am open to suggestions.
0 Replies
 
Setanta
 
  1  
Reply Sun 27 Dec, 2015 08:32 am
Literacy plays into any religious of philosophical creed because one must be able to consult the relevant texts to embrace the philosophy.

You must find peace from within, grasshopper. Snatch the residuals check from my fingers . . .
FBM
 
  1  
Reply Sun 27 Dec, 2015 08:37 am
@Setanta,
Very Happy

What about verbal communication?
Setanta
 
  1  
Reply Sun 27 Dec, 2015 08:40 am
@FBM,
Verbal communication is what lead to modern day christianity and islam.
Leadfoot
 
  1  
Reply Sun 27 Dec, 2015 08:44 am
@Setanta,
Confusing. How does that square with your previous post?
0 Replies
 
FBM
 
  1  
Reply Sun 27 Dec, 2015 08:46 am
@Setanta,
Setanta wrote:

Verbal communication is what lead to modern day christianity and islam.


Eh? Flesh that out a bit?
0 Replies
 
Setanta
 
  1  
Reply Sun 27 Dec, 2015 09:06 am
We know absolutely nothing about what Jesus (if he ever actually existed) did, in fact, say. All we've got is the distillation of verbal reports made long after his death. With islam, we've got the Quran, but Mohammed was illiterate, and once again, we've got a text which was written down only after his death. Now the Muslims claim it was written in his lifetime, but as is the case with christianity, it was only written in the form we know centuries after his death.
Leadfoot
 
  1  
Reply Sun 27 Dec, 2015 09:18 am
@Setanta,
True, but I find that rather intriguing.

I mean, all this fuss so many years later about this guy who had no budget for self promotion. What explains it? Will Donald Trump be remembered that well?
manored
 
  1  
Reply Sun 27 Dec, 2015 11:41 am
@Leadfoot,
Leadfoot wrote:

I mean, all this fuss so many years later about this guy who had no budget for self promotion. What explains it? Will Donald Trump be remembered that well?
I'm no expert at all and speaking this out of memory, but if I recall correctly the Bible and as an extension Christianity as we know came to be as a result of efforts from figures of authority to create an unified religion for the sake of political stability and masses-manipulation power. Jesus left in his wake a ton of different christian groups with different beliefs, and they just sorta picked the most popular, useful and reasonable ideas to make up their definite version of the religion.

For example, emperor Constantine is know for having converted to Christianity and been a strong supporter of the faith, even being considered a saint, but to this day scholars differ on whenever he was truly christian or only utilized the religion as an instrument for political stability and control.

I know nothing of the formation of Islam but I imagine it was something similar.

Setanta wrote:

Literacy plays into any religious of philosophical creed because one must be able to consult the relevant texts to embrace the philosophy.
I disagree, a philosophy can be transmitted via word of mouth. It will certainly be degraded if it is transmitted only this way throughout multiple generations, but as long as you have a literate elite as the source of the philosophy, as medieval Europe did, the message ought to stay the same. Unless it is intentionally changed for someone's convenience...

FBM wrote:

I think creating a hole in my skull might be the way to deal with this headache. Nail or drill bit? Have both on hand. Am open to suggestions.
You know you're doing philosophy right when you want to self-lobotomize.

FBM wrote:

Those images bring to my mind early city-states, rather than the nomadic, hunter-gather lifestyle. I could be wrong, but when I look at the remaining hunter-gathers, I don't see anything particularly nasty about it.
I agree. As I see it, hygiene problems in a population are directly correlated to population density. People from ancient city states often had to pretty much live among their poop and waste, and were compressed into a small space with many other people with transmission of diseases and parasites going wild. Neither of those facts are true for nomadic hunter-gatherers, and they also tended to have more access to ample, clean water to drink and bathe on.

FBM wrote:

My guess is that the infantile tendencies towards favoritism mentioned above would disappear at some stage of development if it weren't fed and nurtured by adults. That's just a blind guess, of course. But we're not competing for survival resources in the same ways as our distant ancestors. Maybe that infantile tendency is vestigial?
I don't think enough time has passed since that time for that instinct to have started to evolve out of us.

I think what determines the extinction of our xenophobic instincts is interaction. If you have the opportunity to interact with someone from another race and see that the're not that different, then you begin to lose your fear, just as we can overcome our natural fear of other things such as heights.
cicerone imposter
 
  1  
Reply Sun 27 Dec, 2015 12:08 pm
@manored,
In regards to your last paragraph; what you say may be true, but bigots do not allow opportunities such as you describe to happen. That's the reason they are so myopic.
Finn dAbuzz
 
  1  
Reply Sun 27 Dec, 2015 12:26 pm
@Setanta,
Quote:
If all humans were so predictably suspicious and hostile, how did the human race survive? If the Harvard geneticists who published their findings a few years back are correct, then there were no more than 10,000 and maybe as few as 1000 humans on the planet 30,000 years ago. How then did they survive and prosper, if this view of culture is correct? Why did they not exterminate one another?


Interesting point.

I would think the behavior of tribal people in Papua New Guinea could be due to a historical reinforcement of an instinctual behavior. At some point experience may have informed the tribes that it was necessary to kill or be killed which would form a behavioral chain that would be very difficult to break. That there are something like 700 native languages suggests that communication that might foster cooperation rather than violence may have been difficult, but I'm not certain if this wide variety exists within the "uncontacted" tribes of whom I assume Diamond was writing.

While the population of Papua New Guinea is now in the millions I think it's safe to say that the number of "uncontacted" people doesn't approach such that sum or that the indigenous people, prior to the arrival colonial invader, were anywhere near that number. Does Diamond have any suggestion as to how far back the "kill on sight" behavior has been the norm? If this behavior is as Diamond says and it has been practiced for generations, it hasn't resulted in the eradication of these tribes.

So while I personally believe there is enough evidence to suggest that early humans learned to cooperate with strangers they came upon, I think it's possible that given enough distance between early groups they might have had a compelling aggressive instinct when confronted by strangers and that such an instinct wouldn't necessarily have led to extinction of early humans.

Tribal battles typically didn't lead to the extermination of one side or the other. Raids that either drove one group away from a desirable location and/or brought into the raiding group resources and women of child-bearing age were most prevalent.



manored
 
  1  
Reply Sun 27 Dec, 2015 01:11 pm
@cicerone imposter,
cicerone imposter wrote:

In regards to your last paragraph; what you say may be true, but bigots do not allow opportunities such as you describe to happen. That's the reason they are so myopic.
Yes, indeed. Paranoiac cultures are the most problematic, as they reject the object of fear to the point of becoming entirely unable to learn about it, and descend into a spiral of misinformation and misguided hate.
0 Replies
 
Setanta
 
  1  
Reply Sun 27 Dec, 2015 01:25 pm
@Leadfoot,
Are you willfully naïve, or do you just think you are being clever. In a world lit only by fire, and populated my a majority of illiterates, the story teller is king. It is hilariously idiotic to compare the culture of 2000 years ago with that of today. Impoverished peoples of Africa today pay for things with their phones. Capisce?
 

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