Saturday, August 29, 2009

Interesting Stuff

This is one of the most interesting discussions I've ever read online. I hope everyone will enjoy it.

The (Approximately) Quarterly Moron Report

Hey guys… just in time for back to school.
I’ve been wondering, is it something in the water? I really want to believe that the system works. I want to believe that white collar professionals are not morons. I want to believe that college students have to be smart (or at least show more measurable brain activity than a coma patient on Quaaludes), but time and time again my ability to believe that is deeply shaken.
A girl I know was examining a hundred dollar bill, and she asked what number president Benjamin Franklin was. (No, wait, there’s more.) I tried explaining that Benjamin Franklin wasn’t a president, but she adamantly insisted that he was because a) he was on the hundred dollar bill and b) she learned about his presidency in high school. The argument continued, and in order to convince her that Benjamin Franklin was not a president, I had to print up a list of the United States presidents off the internet. I showed her the list, and she smacked herself on the forehead (thank god someone did) and laughed. “Oh my God!” she said. “I totally had him confused with this guy.” The name she pointed to was Franklin Roosevelt. She had actually managed to confuse Franklin Roosevelt with Benjamin Franklin, in spite of the two centuries between them.
That isn’t the punch line either. The punch line is that she’s studying to be a high school teacher. She is currently in college and receiving above average passing grades. You can say, “Well maybe it wasn’t her day,” or maybe that “history may not be her subject” (Duh! Boy, is that one hell of an understatement.), but no. It doesn’t end there. This girl also didn’t know that there was water in coffee, or that Canada and Europe have a postal system.
It gets worse. This girl will be studying abroad in Germany, which means she will be representing all of us on foreign soil. I can visualize her now at the U.S embassy saying “I don’t know how I ended up in Deutschland, but I was trying to get to Germany.” At which point I will seriously consider renouncing my citizenship and moving to Canada.
Here are some more highlights from the world of academia:
A Future Police Officer- In a discussion regarding the ingredients of Brisk Ice Tea vs. normal soda I asked “What do you think high fructose corn syrup is made out of?” She replied, “Maple?” This same future-Detroit’s-finest accidentally scheduled herself for night classes instead of day classes by some mistake that is as yet unknown. But that’s okay because at least she read that tanning can cause melanoma, which was a weight off her chest because Chaz had told her tanning can give you skin cancer. And she almost, like, um, totally believed him and stuff! LOL.
They might as well just start painting “To Protekct and Surv” on the cars right now.
An Architect in Training- I was picking out my classes for this semester, and I mentioned that it would be interesting to take a botany class, and that was when the Frank-Lloyd-Wright-to-be asked me what kind of robots I would be studying.
Why ones with lasers of course!
A Wannabe Vet Tech- “If America has a deficit, why don’t we just print more money? That‘s the easiest way to solve the problem.”
A Male Nursing Student- “Alchemy is easy. All you do is you take gold and tin and add some protons.” Oh my God! Why didn’t I think of that- oh wait… I remember… I didn’t think of that because it’s completely idiotic and even the smartest alchemists with the best equipment have failed. People make more money off meth labs than alchemy labs.
Go ahead and laugh, but this guy is going to be administering medical treatment to you or your loved ones. Each of these individuals could play a role that is vital to your life in some respect in the near future. They’ll be taking care of your pets, or designing your house, or maybe responding to an emergency call in a life threatening situation.
And that scares the shit out of me. All sarcasm aside, it’s simply scary.
It’s possible that the system will weed these individuals out before they are in a position to do any real damage, but think about this: they’ve already passed every standardized test the U.S. requires to enter the work force. They’ve managed to make it through college for at least a year. Theoretically, those are two hurdles that are put in place to keep people like this from leaving school in the first place. It’s the reason why school exists in the first place.
I this what our founding fathers’ had in mind when they signed the Emancipation Proclamation in 1492? I don’t think so buster! When Jesus wrote in the Geneva Convention that all men are created equaled and are… incarcerated… by their creator with certain alienated rights and one of those rights is freedom of speech and the right to bare false witness against the accused, I’m sure he intended for people to be held accountable for the things they say.
I may not be a botanist, but I know when things are going to hell. Can I site any specific reasons or evidence for my beliefs? No!
But think about this… I read just the other day that there’s H2O in our water supply. In fact, did you know that you can’t even drink a glass of water from your tap without drinking H20? There’s even H2O in rain. Fish are breathing it, and we’re eating the fish. In fact, we consume so much H2O that our bodies are mainly made of it. H2O is a chemical compound, which means it could cause melanoma or even skin cancer.
On top of all this, we’re cutting down our beautiful oaks trees just for their maple sap so that we can make corn syrup for our sodas. Then we take the aluminum out of our ground to make cans, because the government doesn’t even realize that aluminum is made out of tin, and you can make tin into gold if we just added protons. If we turned all of our aluminum into gold then we could print more money so we have no homeless people and no deficit.
Our 400th president, Benjamin Franklin, must have had a promotion about the future when he said “a stitch in time is worth a pound of cure.” It’s even in the Bible. Look it up. Is this the kind of country you want to live in?
It’s funny, but it isn’t that far removed from reality. This is ultimately what happens in a country where you’re free to remain ignorant, and there is neither an expectation nor a demand for you to do otherwise. Laugh now, but when you get arrested by Officer Brainless five years from now, and your lawyer thinks habeas corpus is a metal band, don’t come crying to me.
Oh… and do you want to hear something really scary? One word… UFOlogist.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Refuting Type 1 Civilization Theory

Recently I read and commented on Michael Shermer’s entry about a Type 1 civilization. The core problem with the theory, as I see it, is that it presents the evolution of culture as a linear progression from simple to complex. The evolution of culture climaxes in the development of a type 1 civilization. The characteristics of a Type 1 civilization, as Shermer defined it, is as follows:
“Globalism that includes worldwide wireless internet access, all knowledge digitized and available to everyone anywhere any time, a global economy with complete open economic borders and free markets where anyone can trade with anyone else without interference from states or governments, and where all states are democracies in which everyone on the planet has the franchise.” (Type 1)
Of course, this Type 1 utopia only exists after society has progressed through all the stages. In Shermer’s model of civilization that means the progression of society from lower Paleolithic cultures, to hunter-gather societies, followed by the formation of tribes, then chiefdoms, states, and so on. The chronicle of actualized societies ends with a .9 society, (the theoretical stage that us Americans happen to be at) which Shermer defines as “Democratic-Capitalism, now spreading across the globe through democratic movements and free trade agreements.” (Type 1)
The first and most glaring problem with this theory is the astounding, mind-boggling, ethnocentric arrogance required to make such a generalization. The idea of a Type 1 civilization assumes that somehow the natural progression of human events culminates in a Western society, with Western values, that bares a rather strong resemblance to American ideas and values. Hence, any society that does not have these characteristics is somehow “less advanced” and ranking far lower on the evolutionary scale.
It is tempting to place oneself as the ego, and define ones’ own culture as the pinnacle of evolution, but are there facts to prove that Western societies are the best? Ultimately, cross-cultural study and analysis suggests that all societies (including tribal ones that would be considered primitive in Shermer’s classification scheme) are equally effective at meeting the particular needs of their members. All societies possess areas where they frequently struggle to meet the individual needs of their members, and areas where they excel at meeting a given need. One of the primary assumptions of anthropology is that culture is generally adaptive (Anthropology). This means that it is relatively safe to assume that cultures currently in existence possess adaptive traits particular to their circumstance- after all, if their culture were maladaptive, it would be extinct.
It is quite possible that many cultures might benefit from being more Western, but might is hardly a statement of fact. We don’t know how they would fair- and we cannot make a definitive statement in absence of evidence. Presuming an idea is true merely because we don’t know that it’s not is hasty at best. In fact, I can think of several examples where introduction of Western values and culture have been detrimental to other societies: the Aborigines of Australia whose acculturation left numerous in desperate poverty and with their own cultural heritage in tatters, the Samoans whose familiarity with Westerners introduced them to obesity and hypertension (Anthropology), and the American Indians whose unsolicited contact with Europeans left them a marginalized subgroup, ravaged by disease, and often living in poverty.
Is globalizing the world, and hence making everyone into a Westerner, really win-win? Unavoidably, someone must lose, just as many indigenous cultures already have. That is simply the obvious reality of that plan, and how Shermer could have overlooked it is beyond me.
Furthermore, Shermer frequently (and sometimes dubiously) asserts that science is on his side. This time he is simply wrong. The idea of a linear progression of society from simple to more complex was the popular notion of anthropologists in the early history of the discipline. Early Evolutionism, whose major proponents included Lewis Henry Morgan and Edward B. Tylor, proposed that all societies pass through the same basic stages of development. It was thought that simpler peoples had somehow failed to reach higher stages of development- but ultimately that all societies would end up with essentially the same form. However, their theories didn’t account for why some societies skipped stages, others regressed to simpler stages, and some simply failed to evolve at all or became extinct. (Anthropology)
In fact, another anthropologist known as Leslie A. White (often times referred to as a Neoevolutionist) even suggested that the amount of energy a culture could harness governed the evolution of culture, but ultimately it succumbed to the same basic failures as early Evolutionism. It could not account for why some cultures advanced, others did not, some regressed, and others went extinct. (Anthropology)
The bigger lesson here, outside of all the obvious, is that no one is immune to his or her own ego- not even Michael Shermer. It’s ironic that, as a champion of skepticism and destroyer of those who make unverified claims of the extraordinary, he would turn around and do precisely the same thing. Shermer should realize have access to information makes no difference if the information is simply bad (as is the case with many information source online). Written sources are only as useful as the person who writes them. Even access to good information is no guarantee that anyone will necessarily access the information. After all, how many non-fiction books have been written? When was the last time you heard of a rush on the library to get the latest taxonomy supplement? The internet has existed for quite sometime now, and the only thing people seem interested in accessing on it is porn. Why do we have a reason to believe that in some vague time in the not-too-distant-future people will be miraculously more enlightened?
It just goes to show that even on the internet (golly gaspy jeepers!) you can’t believe everything you read… so you might as well surf for pron!

Works Cited

Type 1 Civilization. Michael Shermer.

Ember, Carol R. Ember, Melvin. Peregrine, Peter. Anthropology. “Theoretical Approaches in Cultural Anthropology”. “Culture Change and Globalization”. Prentice Hall. Jan. 2007. pgs. 232, 236, 237, 504