Postmodern Anthropology and Civilization
During lunch last Friday, I read part of an ethnographic study on urban isolation: You Owe Yourself a Drunk by James Spradley. The following is my notes making sense of psychology and civilization.
In the short form,
- The industrial revolution prompted a large migration to the cities
- As transportation became easier, the fiscal importance of maintaining a secure extended family became less and less
- The breakdown of the "nuclear family" alongside the social acceptance of divorce
- Loss of childhood, high school, and college friends as we moved away for better education and job opportunities
We can infer causes of
- Rise of lallating entertainment, the internet, and social media
- The move away from realism in fiction, entertainment, art, ethnography
- A more inter-connected global society, with less emphasis placed upon nationalism.
- A removal of categoric self-definition, the movement towards a more fluid identity
- Rhetoric of advertisement and the consumer
By no means is this article a nativistic rant about why we should return to a more community-oriented world. Firstly, time's arrow marches forward, and civilization will continue to expand and interconnect the way our brain forms its own connections with dendrites and axons. We cannot lesion urban isolation, but find ways of coping in an exciting new world of mass-media and global politics. Secondly, the rise of interconnectedness has led to important and profound social change, such as the Civil Rights, LGBT, Religious Tolerance, Education, and Feminism movements. At the heart of that social change is perhaps a overarching trend of increasing empathy and education, produced by our ability to actually see how perpetuating an unjust culture affects real people living real lives. Dystopia, it can be argued, occurs when those in power are blinded to the injustice affecting those without power.
It's interesting to also contemplate where we are in our contemporary, post-9/11 society. The massive anti-war movement against the Vietnam war was enkindled through images of bombings and gas warfare on the television. We lost the Vietnam war. The industrial behemoth of the US killed a large number of innocent civilians living in a country that hadn't yet reached an industrial age; indirect pawns in a game of global chicken between USA and Russia. Similarly, our economic and political objectives precipitated the fragmentation and fictionalization of political and religious groups in the Middle East. Saudi Arabia and Iran, fighting indirectly by supporting opposing sides such as the war in Iraq, the Syrian Civil War, and the Yemen Civil War. Religious extremists popped up out of the destabilization, and declared religious war upon America. Although this war is unjust, it is not without reasonable cause: who's sending drone strikes out to kill an disproportional amount of innocents? There's a long history of European subjugation of marginalized populations in India, Africa, the Middle East, and in countless third world countries. At the root of this injustice is the throttle of civilization, the perpetuation of suppressing the have-nots in trade of modern comfort. That in some countries, someone who doesn't work hard enough will have their boss employ someone to outright kill them, so that they can import T-shirts for free. And to think the US is scared of China's industrialization and growing economy.
Those who have the opportunity to go to school, buy food from the supermarket, sleep 8 hours a day, and work a job typing on a computer often have time to think—the basic luxury of being able to escape into their own minds. Those without those opportunities are forced into the rat race and locked in, incarcerated in the feudal structure. Struggle is punished, obsequity is trained.
We are in the process of a great paradigm shift. The growth of mass-information—and consequently mass-surveillance and big data—nurtured the increasing number of people able to self-actualize themselves. It's as though society has discovered psychotherapy, and has realized its addictions, traumas, motives, and memories. Now that anyone can look up "how to start a business" or "how to invest in the stock market" or "how to solve a multi-variable calculus problem," we have access to the global brain. This relates to the "black box" theory in psychology—that the brain is like a "black box" that we cannot peer into, but rather study the effects of various stimulus on the outcome. The development of the internet contributes directly to our understanding of our societal brain. Furthermore, high school students can now look up the information that they're being taught in classes. Less and less emphasis is put on memorization. The real value of education is rather in the comprehension of the holistic system, understanding how and why something works. If you can look up all the equations online, you have more time to understand how and why we use them.
The process is rather recursive. The way I see it, our societal brain is evolving the same way our ancestors evolved into humans. The body of society preys upon its weaker inhabitants to feed itself, while the inhabitants in power develop new systems and processes of governance and connection. What's civilization building towards? It's here that I'd like to establish acknowledgement that none of this is fair, and that it's all dictated by where and when you were born, and move forwards in the discussion to my outlandish theoretical ideas upon how civilization will collapse and never start up again.
It's certainly plausible that the big bang has happened infinite times before, that entropy somehow reverses. That just as infinite mass and energy exploded unto itself, that it will collapse into itself again. The same goes for civilization, that all these very basic rules and functions built more and more complex systems. That we're at a point of understanding these functions, but that we'll get to the point where the entire system is so complex and interconnected and self-understood that we'll unlock some grand explanation and go insane, prompting a sort of civilizational felo de se, or implosion. That one thing will go wrong and trigger a large-scale collapse the scope of which this variation of life has never seen. There's a creepypasta story about this, about why we've never seen any conscious alien life. There's also an obscure Buddist principle, something about a lily and the concept of the world, or something.
In the course of discussing this with my father, my mouth started to foam. I began spitting up foam and getting more agitated. The more I talked about it the more agitated I got, thinking about the individual as one ant and of the aggregate as an anthill. Of consciousness of one being as only a molecule in comparison to the mass consciousness of our industrial society. The scene was insane, you should've seen me prance and shout, my father just calmly sitting there in his chair, understanding. I began hysterically laughing, the type of laughing I'd never done like a low-laughing sincere and hysterical, and sort of crying where it wasn't sad or cathartic by my eyes swelled up. I couldn't tell if it was because somehow my ego was hurt by reasons only explainable in The Drama of the GC or if I was going crazy trying to contemplate the asymptotic nature of things.
I guess I've reached the point in the article where I have talked about all I have to talk about. I watched the entirety of Bojack Horseman season 4 the day it came out. All 5 hours. It was incredible. I've been studying, in psychology, lesioning the brain and lobotomy—at least, a little bit—and it was painful seeing that in season 4. I'd like to understand the psychology of pain better, so maybe it'd teach me more about myself or connecting with other people. I've been hanging out with friends more, and realizing how little I had hung out with friends over the course of high school. I've been college searching, dancing, singing loudly in the car, reading, and embracing leadership more often. I guess that's where I'll end the article.