Human culture in a nutshell

This is the first guest article in my blog. Credit goes to “spandrell”, a white friend of mine. I got the honor to publish his original work in my blog to share with everyone. Enjoy!

There’s this question I’ve wondered about forever. We are all told humans are individuals who think independently and are totally creative and unique.

But I grew up and read, travelled, went to museums. And I thought: if all humans are individuals with individual souls and fully capable or whatever,

Why are cultures so uniform? And why do they vary so much? Why do Egyptians cut clitorises? Why do Chinese worship money? Why do Indians worship bullcrap? Why do Moroccans drink mint-tea? Etc.

The answer to cultural diversity between cultures, uniformity inside them; and to the world’s utter dysfunction in the postmodern age is,

Most people are stupid. As individuals, most people are pretty dumb. I won’t show the Bell curves here. But it’s pretty well known. Or it should.

Well dumb people can’t do anything by themselves. They have to be taught. Repeatedly. Drilled mercilessly on their brains until they reach basic competence.

And that’s what most cultures do: the same fucking thing over and over again for generations. Attach some mystical value to the whole thing (some God fucked a sheep and its son invented the technique), some ancestor worship (they came up with doing that on the first place), and over time you have a people who have become very proficient in, say, falcon hunting, horse-archery, cow worship, temple building, oil painting, whatever.

Of course this works at all levels: nation-level, tribe-level, caste-level,  art school level. It’s the only way to really acquire proficiency at anything, to practice forever under people who have practiced forever. Indians took it too far and even force you to marry only other people who have practice the same thing forever. The average human can only do something with an acceptable level of proficiency if he does that and ONLY that for, well, ever. Over time come marginal changes, little evolutionary changes which cause what we call cultural change, i.e. that which we write on history books, or how we arrange museum expositions. Of course cultures have different degrees of change, some are quite fast (post Black-death Europe) some are pretty much static (Eskimos). Different variables influence that rate of change. I remember seeing in the Louvre museum those cylinder seals the ancient Middle-easterners used to decorate their clay tablets. They used those for over 3000 years!  A damn cylinder carved as to print a relief in clay when you turn it forward. I’ m sure it was pretty neat when one Mesopotamian relief artist got fed up with carving every single clay tablet once by one, and invented the thing back in 3500BC. I bet all other artisans were blown away. But when Alexander’s armies 3000 years later went through the area the local artisans were still busy carving their cylinders. Now that’s what I call tradition.

My hunch is that IQ is the defining factor in the rate of cultural change. Some people just can’t really come up with new stuff. Say Papuans, who have been probably decorating their penis sheaths forever.

Meanwhile Europe was always busy destroying everything the previous generation had left over.

Yet again East Asians are pretty smart, yet aren’t as unfilial as Europeans. The thing is cultural change is not an unmitigated good: it destroys the proficiency-by-drilling thing, i.e. if you stop drilling you stop making good stuff. Japanese artisanship is a good example of what boring practice is capable of. Of course Europeans invented machines so there’s little need for practice-based artisanship, but that has caused widespread misery for those who need to be drilled to make anything useful, not to mention awkwardness for the older generations who can’t keep up with the new stuff.

Well that awkwardness is what Asians will NOT stand. Old people are in charge there, and young people accept the need to wait to be in charge. And when they are in charge they will make sure that the cycle is not broken and they get the respect they waited for so damn long. Cultural change in a sense is a form of disrespect over what was left over by forebears, and breaks the drill cycle (cultural transmission). I’m sure the old man wouldn’t be happy if its son decides to make fishing nets in a different way. Or stop making nets altogether. If you allow kids to stop making nets you may end up without the knowledge to make them and force the whole hamlet to starvation.

Breaking the drill cycle brings good and bad things. Good is it creates progress! You stop teaching something, people stop being able to do it. So you need to come up with something else. Better. Voila, steam machine. Voila, airplanes. Voila, penicilin. Voila, smartphones. It’s pretty cool and we all owe a lot to it.

The bad thing is that it causes the vast majority of the people (those unable to come up with things, those who NEED the drilling to be able to do anything) to become miserable inefficient workbots. The solution is more effective drilling (what we used to call ‘education’) to make them proficient at whatever productive industry there is at the moment. It worked while 1. The rate of change was pretty much generational, i.e. you could expect to use the skills learned in school when you become an adult; 2. Schools drilled kids with merciless efficiency and brutality. So kids actually learned 1. Manners 2. A trade.

But now? We have become so enamored with ‘progress’ (cultural change) that we came up with the fantastic idea that if you stop ALL drilling at all, and just teach instead some abstract nonsense about queer history and democratic values, people will come up with new things all the time! Ain’t that awesome? So there’s some stupid idea out there that the innovation rate is not enough (tell that to Mesopotamians which decorated their houses the same way for 3000 years), so we need to come up with even more new stuff, but people just can’t keep up. Why could that be? Real Answer: people just aren’t that smart. Mainstream answer: Kids get bored at school with drilling, so we need to stop drilling and they’ll become super creative!

This has been done since around the 70s, with the predictable results of a complete breakdown of traditional manners and culture, making dumb people (= left half of the Bell Curve) totally unproductive, ultimately becoming junkie welfare addicts. Smart people still somehow come up with enough things to keep the economy going, but demographics predicts it can’t last much longer. The 3rd worlders we are importing to replace our useless new underclass are even dumber than the natives, and we aren’t educating them either, so we are just creating a doubled up junkie welfare addict plebeian mass. And don’t get me started with Jihad.

So European obsession with change (‘progress’)  made it deny the most basic human way of cultural transmission, that is: focused drilling. Asians are still pretty much for it (too much, as they drill also their smart kids, which become boring workbots), so they’ll probably keep some level of civilization while Europe strives to get its shit together. If it ever does.

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11 comments

  1. Morning to you. I’ve been thinking about this post a couple of days now and I’ve decided it’s founded on some historically shaky ground, though from many perspectives it might be said to be correct. Asians, I opine, aren’t much different from Europeans, from anyone on the planet when it comes to rapidity and fluidity in cultural change. It comes frequently out of the corner of the eye and manifests itself before anyone understands the implications.

    One example is the change in the Japanese between the end of the Russo-Japanese War and the invasion of China. When the Japanese were part of the post-WWI international efforts to keep the railways open after the Russian Revolution but before it was clearly established what would follow, the Japanese forces acted with more, possibly, restraint and civility than those representing any of the other nations. Striking contrast to the rape of Nanking and all those troubles a few years later.

    But history is full of similar examples elsewhere.

    Just musing.

  2. Thanks for the compliment sir.

    As for Japan I happen to have lived there for years and know the people quite well.
    I wouldn´t count the difference of conduct of troops as “cultural change”, as inside Japan people behaved pretty much the same way.
    The problem is the war conduct in China was extremely savage, even for their standards. Unit 731 was the most evil thing probably ever done.

    As for why, my take is the same as why Germans were so merciless against the Russians. Germans and Japanese are organized and obedient, and they wanted lebensraum. You need to kill people to get it. So they did.

    WWI era Japanese just wanted to be respected members of the League of Nations. So they behaved gentlemanly.

  3. “Germans and Japanese are organized and obedient, and they wanted lebensraum. You need to kill people to get it. So they did”

    I think Japanese are a bit more extreme than the Germans. Above all Germans do hold large area of land across the whole Europe whereas Japan is confined on some remote islands at the end of the world. After WWI their energy was focusing on getting all the German properties in China (e.g. Tsingtao) and projecting military forces in Northeast China to prepare for systematic colonization. Soviets had never really stepped in Manchuria to chanllenge Japan’s power in the region, of course there’s no need for Japan to be hostile against the Soviet.

    Japanese people are absolutely more obedient than the Germans, and way more narrow-minded than the Germans as well.

  4. Japan had two strategies, go north (siberia) and go south ( SEA, china).
    They tried taunting the USSR first at KhalKhin gol, but Zhukov kicked their asses pretty hard. So they went south. And provoked the US.

    Japan had peasants starving, so lebensraum was a real necessity. Didnt work out though

  5. “They tried taunting the USSR first at KhalKhin gol, but Zhukov kicked their asses pretty hard. So they went south. And provoked the US.”

    This is the point that puzzled me the most. How are the Japanese so sure that Americans ain’t as tough as the Russians at that time? I seriously doubt that if US is ever going to intervene the west pacific battlefield if Japan did not bomb Pearl Harbor…

    “Japan had peasants starving, so lebensraum was a real necessity. Didnt work out though”

    Japan already got Korea and Taiwan, and pretty much owned Manchuria at the time… they were too rushy and greedy? The main difference between Japan and Germany at that time was that Japan’s WWII vision was more of a collective opinion of Japan rather than a crazy dude who was excellent in giving speech and convincing his fellow countrymen in Germany.

  6. “They tried taunting the USSR first at KhalKhin gol, but Zhukov kicked their asses pretty hard. So they went south. And provoked the US.”

    Seems to me that’s an over-simplification. Soviet armor kicked their asses, maybe Zhukov did, maybe he didn’t. Certainly the Soviet leadership had better generaling than the Japanese leadership. But KhalKin was the pivot point for the entire war in a lot of ways. The fact the Soviets didn’t need another front and the Japanese were shaky in their confidence of being able to do anything against the USSR changed their focus but left the Kwantung Army sitting up there twiddling its thumbs throughout the war became a significant factor in the adventures in China and anywhere US and Japanese forces were facing one another.

    “This is the point that puzzled me the most. How are the Japanese so sure that Americans ain’t as tough as the Russians at that time? I seriously doubt that if US is ever going to intervene the west pacific battlefield if Japan did not bomb Pearl Harbor…”

    August 1941 that issue was settled. Once Roosevelt and Churchill agreed to close down the oil at Singapore Japan would have no alternative other than bring the US into the war. R and C harbored no illusions about that. R’s mistake was in believing they’d hit Manila.

    “Japan already got Korea and Taiwan, and pretty much owned Manchuria at the time… they were too rushy and greedy? The main difference between Japan and Germany at that time was that Japan’s WWII vision was more of a collective opinion of Japan rather than a crazy dude who was excellent in giving speech and convincing his fellow countrymen in Germany.”

    Rushy and greedy were their only alternatives within the context of the overall strategy for their Asian adventure. War in China was bleeding them dry. They had several windows of opportunity, all closing at varying speeds. Fuel, the duration of the war in Europe, the industrial capacity of the US when mobilization was complete.

    They had to control Singapore and to do so they had to control the approaches with enough force to repel counter-attacks after peace in Europe if the Germans failed and the Brits and French re-involved themselves. They had to control enough of the eastern Pacific to keep the US from remaining a naval threat, no matter what happened in Europe.

  7. After thinking about it while I went out and turned the chickens loose I came to the opinion the comparison between Hitler and the Japanese high command really isn’t accurate insofar as ‘community vision for the war’ with the Japanese. The entire-prewar period, along with the years following Pearl Harbor was a constant jockeying for power and position between the Navy and the Army, manifested in strategies which, viewed from a distance might appear consistent, but when carefully examined reveal internal power-shifts and important shifts in interim priorities.

    I don’t know whether Hitler can be accurately called a madman, or not, but if madman he was, it certainly wasn’t manifested in his military decisions prior to the decisions leading into the Stalingrad encirclement. The North African adventure, though a failure, was caused by miscalculation. Not madness. The inability of the Italian Navy to control enough of the Med to allow the logistics required for success.

    Which is all lengthy digression from the original point about the [still not satisfactorily explained in my view] change in the behavior of the Japanese troops beginning sometime after WWI involvement with post-WWI international intervention in Russia and the ‘cultural change’ I’m convinced it represents.

  8. Good insight Spandrel. May I add that culture is more than about making things. How we reproduce, how we keep our society in harmony, how we deal with our competitors are all the results of the drill. It has gone through eons of evolution so stuff that works are kept. A lot of times we don’t even know why or how it works. If we unravel everything, we risk losing all this stuff that works and had to find other ways. In the longer run this is a good thing, but until we find the way, society is in chaos.

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