Re: virus: Cow

Dave Pape (
Thu, 27 May 1999 13:13:01 +0100

At 13:42 26/05/99 -0400, psypher wrote:

>> Sesame Street:
>> US culture deliberately fostering cooperative interaction
>> between kids. I'm surprised at the sbsolutism of your post, I'm
>> wondering if our definitions are different.
>...I'm guessing that our definitions are the same, but our
>experiences are different. Sticking with Sesame Street for a minute
>the program indeed fosters cooperative interaction between kids but
>it's embedded in a larger cultural context that promotes us/them
>dichotomies between groups.

I think perception/searching for differences between you & others (or your group & other groups) is fundamental to human psychology- probably neurology. In fact I'll bet my damp human arse that there's no-one alive who's innocent of this failing, if it is a failing (cf Bill Roh's (I think) post about the inevitability of conflict). [No aggression still BTW...]

OO! [writing this reviewing the rest of what I wrote] do a websearch for stuff about computer simulations of the Prisoner's Dilemma. There are magic findings in there, about situations where everyone cooperates all the time, and in which someone who exploits will do REALLY well, and the strategies that deal best with occasional cheats- it's good stuff. Also, Matt Ridley's book The Origins of Virtue is shit-hot (contains a review of Prisonners Dilemma research), though you might find cause to disagree with some of it.

>When that system of dichotomies is
>phrased, [for lack of a better word] in such a way that the "us"
>group gets progressively smaller and smaller then the basis for
>cooperation on any but the smallest scales is greatly eroded.

You seem to have a pretty negative impression of how people think about other groups. I mean, I consider the people that work at The Papermakers Arms pub to be (partially) distinct from the group of Booker Ltd computer programmers (my group, 9am-5pm, Mon-Tue.). BUT I /trade/ with the members of that group- I buy beer from them, they get symbolic social-debt tokens from me. And both groups think the other group is okay.

You CAN look at modern societies as being depressingly over-divided, but then you can also look at them as an astonishing mesh of trading tribes. I was in (you're gonna LOVE this) McDonald's a while ago, and had the weird experience of seeing it at once as this hideous corporate exploitation machine, but simultaneously as a gorgeous web of teamwork between people who're very different to each other.

>> I think personally that ALL cultures both foster cooperative AND
>> exploitative strategies in their members' dealings with people from
>> other cultures... at the same time.
>...In retrospect I did overstate my original formulation. To be more
>clear, I should have said there is presently no culture enshrined in
>a hierarchy which fosters cooperation [while there are plenty of
>subcultures which do].

What do you mean by "enshrined in a hierarchy"? One of my favourite beliefs is that there's no group of people that doesn't more or less run on the energy provided by its members thrashing out a tribal hierarchy... I've posted before that a big part of culture's function is to encode the tribal relationships, /vertical as well as horizontal/, between people. So I'd say there's no such thing as a hierarchy-less culture. Certainly not a STABLE hierarchy-less culture.

>Cooperation is fostered within a system of
>cost/benefit analysis - people are encouraged to cooperate when it is
>to their advantage, but the ways in which they are taught to discern
>advantage are restricted to destructive measurements.

Can you spin me a couple of examples of this?

>culture itself is the stories we tell each other and
>ourselves to give that interaction meaning.

If culture is stories to give interactions meaning... hmm... you're definitely coming from a more political, less evopsychological, er, culture than me. I reckon the stories we tell, which are largely statements about what ideas (and what tunes, and what football teams) are Good and Bad, are us symbolically displaying which tribe(s) we belong to. To me, culture is psychologically bound to the process of differentiating peers into My Group/Other Group.

>When the only explanatory
>medium availiable for contextualizing action is divorced from the
>people acting - when the members of a culture must explain their
>actions in terms foreign to their experience - then the structure

Erm... does it? I get the impression that you believe that contemporary society qualifies as one whose members explain their actions in terms foreign to their experience. So... are you saying that contemporary society has collapsed? [Blood adrenaline levels still close to zero, in case you're wondering]

>...culture is a level of interaction composed of biological units
>[people] but its essence is emergent from the interaction of those
>units. When an order [culture] is imposed on those units from an
>alien source in a drive for control a rift is formed between lived
>experience and the stories that give it meaning.

how do you decide what's alien and what's not? to defend yourself from imposed culture, you'd have to tell that the would-be imposers of culture are distinct from your mates and therefore that their stories shouldn't be believed... an us/them distinction, followed by non-cooperation with Them. Tricky.

>...I only have one point of view lived in one local node but the
>components of my world are everywhere. I see foreign people in
>foreign lands wearing the same logos and brandnames,

Funny, I didn't see you as a wearer of Nike Air Terra Goateks. Appearances can be misleading. :)

>consuming the
>same products as the people who share my house and so there's an
>illusion of 'totality', I guess, smeared over everything.

It's a partial illusion: the people that wear those brands have (maybe tenuous) links to the tribe that made the trainers.

>...we're taught to define ourselves by our purchases and products and
>consumer allegiance and then we [as a culture] exploint people who
>are the same as us in the only respect we're taught to understand.

But then, I'm sure if we didn't define ourselves by purchases we'd define ourselves by something like learned songs/dances, and there'd be someone in our group who was better than anyone else at singing/dancing, who'd accept favours to teach those dances, etc etc.

>...I don't know how good a job that does of explaining my perspective
>here, but it's a process.

Getting there... my perspective's very different to yours though. Have you ever read any Spectacular Times, BTW? I've got a copy of The Spectacle- a Skeleton Key. You kind of reminded me of it.

>> 1 That 2nd sentence is a /very/ abstract statement. I was
>> considering putting it in my last post, a kind of pre-emptive
>> acknowledgement of the point, but realised I had no basis for
>>drawing the conclusion.
>...which conclusion?

...That the gap between rich and poor is greater now than it ever was. The reason I couldn't draw the conclusion was that I had no evidence on which to base the process.

>> How do you MEASURE the gap? Distributions of
>> life-expectancies? Inca kings had a way, way better time physically
>> than peasants, can we possibly judge whether that's a smaller
>> difference than between the "elite" and the poor today?
>...I'd measure the gap [assuming it's somethig availiable to

Which it's got to be, if you want to talk about it: "this unmeasurable gap is bigger than it used to be, we must take action NOW!"

>by the degree to which the less-advantaged are
>represented and participate in the network of stories and relations
>that define the structure of the culture.

I was more concerned by how much food they had and how long they could expect to live.

Ah- and I think you're seeing a communications breakage between "elite" culture and micro/local culture that I don't see. It's like... seeing a dislocation between the workings of cerebral cortex and the rest of the nervous system: I don't believe it's there. I think everyone participates, even if it's just by listening to and nattering about the antics of american soap opera stars to your mates, when you live in Fiji.

>...I'd also say an Inca peasant with knowledge of her/his node in the
>web of the culture, who can answer a question of [why?] is better off
>than a sharecropper in central America who's been driven off her/his
>land which they've been connected to for generations and is now
>allowed back on the condition that they grow cash crops for the new
>owners that they've never seen, and now can't feed their family
>because they've been enveloped by a system based on precepts which
>are incomprehensible to them.

I've realised a deep conceptual flaw in my pseudo-logic regarding the "who's better off than they used to be" parts of my argument. Do you mind if I stop pushing it, because I think it's about to collapse.

>...There's been a lot of rhetoric flying around for the past 30 years
>or so from various camps along the lines of "what impact will our
>decisions in relation to these resources/environment/etc. have on our
>kids". Well, I'm one of those kids. From where I stand, the fact that
>the world is broken is pretty much self-evident.

>> Not JUST at their cost. Looks like I might provoke a
>> Wade-Smith-style rape-rage reaction, but it's not as simple as 100%
>> exploitation. There is also an element of trade to the ways world
>> cultures interact.
>...but the individuals in the cultures aren't the ones doing the

What else /is/? Corporations aren't any more Borg-like than any other group of people... just because the guy who agrees to buy the coffee represents a company, doesn't make him not an individual.

>> They are sometimes. EG Live Aid, ha ha ha NATO (hilarious example),
>> but hey, forming an alliance between remote countries, that IS human
>> organisms acting together on a larger scale, isn't it?
>...but the decisions to do so are made apart from the participants in
>the organisms.

Isn't there a risk that a group of 100 people that all participate in decision-making might be wiped out by another group with a firm chain of command and strong elements of decisions-taken-on-your-behalf? I'm thinking that maybe societies aren't designed, they emerge from processes kind of analogous to malthusian, biological processes. Downer.

>Groups of people are told what they're going to do
>from ouside sources. We're still organized along the basis of the
>nation-state, but the people who make the decisions don't share the
>same allegiances and experiences as the people for whom they presume
>to act.

I see your point. What's the alternative? I'd suggest that if we broke the system down into bands of mates/villages with no virtual tiers of coordination on top of that structure, then (a) there'd be loads of fighting between villages and (b) eventually groups of villages would emerge through trade and interpersonal relationship links- and through alliances against common ENEMIES, and then meta-groups would emerge, and then you'd be back roughly where we are now. And... how can you ensure that everyone shares a common culture? Impose one? How do you decide what culture to impose? Everyone would vote for theirs, and how can you say that yours is the most valid?

>...and I didn't take your questioning as hostile at all. I hope my
>responses are likewise civil.

Oh yeh, no worries. Hope my response doesn't annoy you too much.