Monday, January 15, 2007

Cultural Anthropology

I have a puzzle. It occured today, out of nowhere, in a seemingly unrelated place, but here it is.
IMPORTANT: This is purely hypothetical and academic question, more for the student of anthropology. If you are in the mood to be offended, skip the post now.

The world, as it moves from the East to the West, moves almost in a gradient of High Context-Low context, of low aggression to high aggression. The Japanese and the Americans, when one says they are the opposite ends of the world, its in more ways than one.

One rationale for this, is perhaps, that the Caucasian race is based almost entirely in the West.
The homes of these civilisations happen to be in these places, and the gradient happens to move from East to West..

The extreme West(North Americas) did have another race, but not any more. The South Americas do have another race, but I am not aware of their aggression levels, so will have to leave them out for now.

Then the mind went, suppose, we were to plant the Western race in the East, and vice versa - then?
And the pop answer: But we have! The Australian continent is, like the North Americas, politically dominated by the same race as in Europe, with same predecessors. But they are not dying to be counted among the political superpowers, the local maoris live well, and so do their customs. Most of the land is also left alone to live as it pleases, and the people have not mushroomed all over, and colonised the land just because land exists.
Why did it not happen in Australia?? Why were the locals not exterminated?

Could it, just faintly, could it be a case of the land? Could the East-West movement have anything to do with it? Your thoughts... ?

What happens when a High context, Low Aggression culture is planted in the West? Does it acquire the aggression of the land, or does the land acquire the culture of its inhabitants? It wont make sense to think of minority populations as examples. The example should be where the said culture dominates the land - then what happens?


Nabeel said...

who ever adopts whatever .. let's hope it's for the best .. i.e. if the land is good, let the people adopt .. if the people are good .. let the land adopt :)

Neihal said...

*wooosh* over my head:/

I am never telling anyone I was once an anthropology student.

Tell me no more of enchanted days said...

Thanks dear. It's been very difficult...

Cyberkitty said...

Oh, Japanese and Chinese are agressive as well - look at the wars of 1905 and 1937.

sophie said...

ahem -
i have read this twice and am
quite bewildered - so once i have
my tea i may give it another try -
in any case - you are far too
smart for me but i love you


Chiya said...

Pivot of this puzzle lies in the spiritual history and maturity of the land and its inhabitants.

Alas, it is not a puzzle I can solve over a blog and in writing in few, but would love to talk abt this, if we ever meet.

priya said...

I think everybody is aggressive in different ways. When british came to India, aggressiveness was ther, but ther was also submissiveness among few leaders who went to dive and rule and let the country fade with the british.

One who occupies the land and later gets defeated from an outsider is pathetic. Mexicans were defeated by americans and lost few territories. Even people born in those state 4o years back where sent back to mexico itself.

Being aggressive is healthy to build a strong nation but not scaling with others such as war so on.

Z said...

It may not only be the land but also the type of people who went to live there. The people who went first from Europe to live in North America were pioneers; adventurous explorers who wanted to make new lives for themselves. Their aggressive nature was part of that and that sort of attitude is part of the American ethos.

Australia was used as a penal colony, the original British inhabitants were not, themselves, pioneers. Some of them were pretty aggressive, but not necessarily adventurous or ambitious. I don't agree with you about the behaviour of the colonists to the locals, the Australian aborigines. They were appallingly badly treated, robbed of their land, and many thousands of them died; not deliberately killed, but allowed to starve to death because the incomers did not understand the nature of the country, overfarmed it and destroyed its fertility. Much of the land in the interior is hardly fit for habitation and the Aborigines, who love and understand it intimately, are best suited to living there. They were, did you know, described as 'native fauna' and not allowed the vote until the 1960s, which is a shame and a disgrace to Australian history. Even now, many of them live in poverty.

One thing that seems a little odd to me is how the natural instincts of some European nations have changed. If you think of the ancient Romans, 2000 years ago, they were aggressive colonists, whereas modern Italians are not like that at all. The same with Spain; conquistadors in South America 500 years ago and always at war, often with England - think of the Armada. France used to be successful in war until the defeat of Napoleon, still warlike afterwards but not usually on the winning side, unless helped by more powerful allies.

Er ... I don't think I'm drawing any conclusions here. An interesting post though, thank you.

How do we know said...

Hi Nabeel: That is a sweet thought! :-)

Hi Neihal: I always knew i was bad at explaining!! :-(( This one bears that out!

Hi tell me no more: All the way till it gets better, or till you need them, the warm wishes remain with you.. :-) Take care, again!

Hi cyberkitty: Yes, perhaps, but its more passive aggression.. . or maybe I am wrong. I find them to be ruthless(as adversaries) and persistent, yes, but not overtly aggressive.. hence the term "Chinese Torture" :-)

Hi Sophie: umm.. hope the tea is over.. and thank you for liking me!! This post was not very well described.. one of my communication failures in the virtual world :-(

Hi chiya: Cmon.. you cant do that to sure other ppl on this blog also want to hear you..

How do we know said...

Hi Priya: Agree with you there - aggression, or lack thereof, is not a virtue or a vice in itself, at least, not from the perspective of this post. In this post, there were 2 effects - Context and Aggression, and 2 variables - land and race. I was just trying to understand whether the variable "land" has any impact at all on the effect "Aggression" and/or context. (as used to describe low context and high context cultures).

hi Zoe: You're the best!! As usual, not only do you have an idea of the puzzle in the head(in spite of my very poor explanation), you also have some points that force a person to think.
Australia relevant facts, for instance...not only did i not know them, your comment made me realise the homework one should have done before putting up the post. I went by just one factor- the political ambitions of theAustralians in the new world order, and the fact that a lot of it is still uninhabited by humans.

But what is even more interesting are the nuances you have pointed out - about the Romans, the French... yes, it is something to think about...

Chiya said...

Hmm.. you are right.. but this does says that we shall meet soon..
and yes this is an interesting puzzle which has set me thinking a lot.. Will collate my thoughts and will try to write

Vasu said...

Nice post.
I guess it all lies in the mindset of ppl. Many anthropologists believe that the many notions that the West have abt the East are all just fantasies. Aggression to them actually reads as "civilizing". All those things abt the white man's burden..
And Australians aren't pure innocents , either. More than three fourths of the Aboriginal population has been completely wiped out. The Stolen generation is a guilty memory that the Aussies are trying to forget.
Lionel Fogarty, an abo poet accuses the white men who colonised Australia of flouting all the Ten Commandments. He says its paradoxical because they came there to spread Christianity and "civilize" the natives when the broke all of them and coveted something (the land) which is not their own.

itchingtowrite said...

hi nice piece abt the amazing indians. i wud love this guy to teach my kids- the one who makes the mini models

Aradhna said...

I am waiting for the day when you will write something for intellectually challenged people like me so that we can also particpate in the discussions.....

Blackcougar said...

The land is never aggressive. People are and that too because of the circumstances that they are in.

However, your blog made me think, does being civilized or not really determine aggression.

And isnt aggression more fluid than anything else. The East was aggressive now the middle east is !

Wriju said...

I tend to agree with Vasu and I remember having discussed just this topic with her sometime back. She has a done some work on this, and a lot of reading up too and she gave me some interesting links to read up.

Gruesome tales of Australian aggression abound. They systematically dissolved Aboriginee culture by making them interbreed with Europeans. They believed Australia would be would a singular 'gray' race, with no racial disparity. What happened however was a complete eradication of a race and a culture.

Europe is such a paradox too. I think you would agree, that one cannot call all of Europe as aggressive.

Through the ages the Japanese have been infamous for their atrocities. The Chinese would attest to that, so would many other Asian nations.

Genghis Khan was asian too.

How do we know said...

Hi Chiya: Will wait.. a little eagerly, if one may add! :-)

Hi Vasu: yes, thats an extremely interesting thought too.. what is aggression to one set is civilising to the other.. all the same, the urge to civilise, or dominate, depending on which word we choose to use, is rather more in one set than in the others.. and its just a trait in itself, not positive or negative, just a trait.

Hi ITW: For that, you will have to ship them to a village in Punjab.. make them live in huts, and ahem.. get them into a govt. school!!! :-)

Hi Aradhna: तुम बस रहने दो!

बनाकर फ़कीरों का हम भेस ग़ालिब,
तमाशा- ए – अहले चमन देखते हैं!

अब ये बोलो कि ये भी ऊपर से गया!

Hi blackcougar: Yes, that too, is a perspective. probably, places get aggressive by cycles in human civilisation.
But i do think that aggression, or a more neutral word if you prefer it, is inherent to the people.
For instance, India, merely 500 years ago, went from being among the richest countries in the world, to being a poor, starved colony - within a short span of 100-150 years. Had this happened in Europe, would the people have taken it?
Today, I see India tread the same path - of appearing to be full of good things(for want of a better word), of allowing FII and FDI such that soon, most of those sources of wealth are not owned by Indians(and therefore not benefiting them in the long run, and marginalising sections of Indians even in the short run), but I see no aggression there to defend this economic colonisation.

In some of the other races, i see an innate need to "survive", to "own" and "control", and to "propagate"... to me, its a neutral effect. But there, maybe I have lost my point again.

now, as more and more inputs come in, perhaps I will revise my view of Australians being "not very aggresssive" . Therefore, it appears, that the land, might have very little to do with the effect..

How do we know said...

Hi Wriju: Yes, but i still maintain that the aggression we see in the people of the Orient is characterised also by preseverance, slow, determined perseverance.. which is, even if slightly, different from what we see in the West. Their methods are perhaps not alike. or maybe i don't know enough...

The Phosgene Kid said...

I don’t believe the West is any more aggressive than the East or vice-versa. The Arabs owned most of Europe at one time, our native cultures were warring amongst themselves long before Western Europeans showed up - I think aggression is a trait best ascribed to an individual personality vice an entire culture.

artnavy said...

this is very intellectual now
but do not agree that the Chinese or the Japanese are not aggressive

have you read Hofstedes models for culture? - u will like it

Blackcougar said...

My thoughts on the Indian Scenario are slightly different .. India moved from one rule to another .. prosperity had really missed out on the Indians ..

Have just seen two different economies up close and see Indianisation (for lack of a better word) in more ways than one ..

Isnt it the other way around .. the steel wars and then the talk about the Hindujas trying to get into the European telecom market .. arent Indians the one that are hunting around .. subtely though ..

However, aggression has evolved, from the naked aggression to the more subtle and opportunistic aggression.

The state of the land and not the land has a lot to do with aggression .. you might have women getting aggresive in a new york mall christmas sale .. which might be very different from the cold and brutal aggression of politics .. ranging from the ethnic clensing of Central Africa .. to the current 2nd Vietnam !

Definately the state of the land !

Vasu said...

I hope this helps.
Try to think of aggression as a sign or a wish for dominance and also as a symbol of power and also as a wish for gaining power. The process of civilization and aggression, I think are intertwined. Again, I think it all exists in the mind. Ideas about races and their superiority are all embedded in the mind and if you actually think about it, its all pure hypothesis.These ideas give rise to ideas about what civilization actually is, which is again a hypothesis. Who decides what “civilization” actually is?

In order to actually justify all these hypotheses, the West ( who mostly formulated these theories) went on a colonizing spree. There are records of aggression towards these colonizers in many countries, actually. Even in India, if you notice. We had radicals like Bose and so many others existing alongside Gandhi, who preached non violence.

Lands are inhabited by people and fundamentally what these people think is what counts. And, I guess it s quite unfair to bundle people up and label them as each person is different.

I really liked your post . Made me think.


dharmabum said...

as a student, i was pathetic with history, and as an adult, i haven't taken much time or interest, though it has always seemed fascinating.

i just have one question - are u quite sure about the australian history? i would find it very hard to believe that there was no extermination. the moment a race starts moving to new regions, it is naturally going to face opposition (except as it turns out here in bharat!) and the consequent violence.

anuj said...

m nt an antropology student .. bt wud give my take on tht ..

firstly, d aussies r agresive too .. we see it evry now nd thn in cricket .. nt only in terms of d game bt in behavior as well ..

nd i feel .. its more of d power game .. initially thy were all powerful nd thus didnt gave a shit to ne one ..

now wid a few emerging economies ... i guess thy do consider nations whom they nevr confirmed of .. ex say india.

with power comes agression which eventually strives to earn more power .. d vicious circle .. bt somehow d motion is inhibited whn d circle intersects with another emerging circle of power ..

How do we know said...

hi Phosgene kid: Am getting more and more inclined to come to that conclusion, going by everyone's feedback.. that perhaps it does not have to do with races, more to do with people, and yet, I find it strange that a race that came from outside, won the military and political control of the land it went to, wherever it went.
its also strange that wherever the race went, it sought to control and not to assimilate.. and likewise for the other races, wherever they went, they sought to control and not to assimilate.. now I m even more confused!!

Hi artnavy: Will read it up.. thanks!
And also, my definition of aggression is the overt aggression, unlike the covert ambition we find in the East...
make that with reference to high context-low context, and i might be able to explain myself better..

How do we know said...

Hi Vasu: yes, it does make sense, when you define aggression that way.. and what happens when u define aggression as the overt expression of a desire to rule? not as individuals, but as a joint setup, comprising of ppl from the same nationality.

My opinion stands hajar revised after all the comments on this blog. perhaps the basic hypothesis, of one set of people being more communicative of their aggression, is in itself not correct.

But then I am faced with the next question - How then, do we explain the fact that political and military supremacy has belonged, for over 400 years, to one race, and that one race only?

How do we know said...

Hi Dharmabum: No, as it turns out, i m hopelessly off the mark with my Australian history, so its all wrong there! :-)

Hi Anuj: SMS-ese was always my waterloo, but some of the points you have made are very interesting. The observation i like best is this:
with power comes agression which eventually strives to earn more power .. d vicious circle .. bt somehow d motion is inhibited whn d circle intersects with another emerging circle of power ..
- I never thought of it that way, so this is a totally new perspective for me..

My question remains unchanged - how then, do we explain the military and political supremacy of one race only, for about 400 years of recorded history?

Sophie said...

I post here now!