« Neuroscience and Culture | Main | Neural synchronization: what information is fMRI missing? »

February 05, 2007


Very very interesting piece. I posted some comments on http://www.capyblanca.com/2007/02/what-me-paranoid.html

Very cool post,thanks.

This makes me think of the idea I have for an article on the origins of anti-economic and economic thinking, including why economic thinking appears to be counter-intuitive. I think it has something to do with our evolution as a social species. The recent article in Science showing that chimapnzees play the ultimatum game more rationally (from an economist's POV), but less socially, than do humans is itself interesting, and quite suggestive.

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"What used to be an advantageous survival strategy is now, at least in well-off societies, a social nuisance and an object of mockery. Is this transformation not a testament to how well off we have become?"

I'd have to say: No, by no means a testament to anything. In fact, I would wager that doom and gloomers were considered just as much of a social nuisance in every culture throughout history.

A little social anthropological reading would most likely back me up. But as I'm much too lazy to suggest links today, I'll try to reconstruct some of my readings into a coherent thesis.

In aboriginal tribes the shaman, wise (wo)man, tribal healer, etc. was the entity that guided the tribe to safety, foretold of danger and was generally the social "critic"; someone who could point out dangerous systemic flaws without fear of expulsion or retribution. In some cultures (even ours if you are flexible re: definitons), they still perform this function. For us they are comedians, artists, even potentially reporters (although I can't think of one that fits the bill offhand).

What anthropologist have found, fairly consistantly, is that these people are almost always shunted to the edges of society, lacking social and physical integration into the tribe. They are revered and powerful, but very often feared. They perform valuable services to their kinspeople; but in the end, we are above all social creatures. We want to sit and chat, not ponder scary potentials. So we don't want Bill Maher nagging us about how blind and stupid we are 24/7. It beomes grating, even though you can accept it in small doses and even agree with it.

I would say that the only thing that has changed is the job title. Untouchable to PoopSmith to Stable Boy to Chamber Maid to Janitor. They all deal with the things we don't want to think about. Our denial systems have become more fine tuned, but they system is still firmly in place.

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