Friday, January 01, 2016

The scope and interests of our CulturePlaces Salon



The posts that follow are intended to provide grist for the mill, to inject findings and opinions that add greater richness and complexity to our deliberations about nature and nurture.  More info will be provided when we crank up our discussion series for the fall.


Rather than tackle national and international issues and institutions that affect the larger civil society, we attempt to concentrate on place-based trends that more directly affect our everyday experiences in our neighborhoods, workplaces and other closer connections.


Though these will overlap with certain global phenomena, we will seek to grapple with ideas that stem from and have immediate implications for our own personal experience. We will deal with those grassroots issues where we–rather than advocates of interest groups, think tankers, pundits or politicians–can make a difference.

We start from the premise that changing the body politic is becoming increasingly difficult for citizens of the 21st century in the way that the power structure was able to do at the start of the 20th century, when American Progressivism was imbued with a strong reformist optimism (“I propose that we lead” declared Edward Adams in the paper delivered at the organizational dinner of the Commonwealth Club which no longer tries to influence policy). That determination has long since been replaced by apathy, cynicism and irony, or involve mostly those at the fringe seeking to "save the world". 

Friday, November 14, 2014

More on national cultural differences affecting behavior


The case against labeling and medicating children, and effective alternatives for treating them

Why French Kids Don't Have ADHD

French children don't need medications to control their behavior.
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In the United States, at least 9% of school-aged children have been diagnosed with ADHD, and are taking pharmaceutical medications. In France, the percentage of kids diagnosed and medicated for ADHD is less than .5%. How come the epidemic of ADHD—which has become firmly established in the United States—has almost completely passed over children in France?

Is ADHD a biological-neurological disorder? Surprisingly, the answer to this question depends on whether you live in France or in the United States. In the United States, child psychiatrists consider ADHD to be a biological disorder with biological causes. The preferred treatment is also biological--psycho stimulant medications such as Ritalin and Adderall.

French child psychiatrists, on the other hand, view ADHD as a medical condition that has psycho-social and situational causes. Instead of treating children's focusing and behavioral problems withdrugs, French doctors prefer to look for the underlying issue that is causing the child distress—not in the child's brain but in the child's social context. They then choose to treat the underlying social context problem with psychotherapy or family counseling. This is a very different way of seeing things from the American tendency to attribute all symptoms to a biological dysfunction such as a chemical imbalance in the child's brain.

Sunday, November 09, 2014

A virus has been discovered that affects cognitive abilities in healthy people




THE INDEPENDENT


http://www.independent.co.uk/news/science/virus-that-makes-humans-more-stupid-discovered-9849920.html


A virus that infects human brains and makes us more stupid has been discovered, according to scientists in the US.

The algae virus, never before observed in healthy people, was found to affect cognitive functions including visual processing and spatial awareness. 

Scientists at Johns Hopkins Medical School and the University of Nebraska stumbled upon the discovery when they were undertaking an unrelated study into throat microbes.

Surprisingly, the researchers found DNA in the throats of healthy individuals that matched the DNA of a virus known to infect green algae.

Dr Robert Yolken, a virologist who led the original study, said: “This is a striking example showing that the ‘innocuous’ microorganisms we carry can affect behaviour and cognition.

“Many physiological differences between person A and person B are encoded in the set of genes each inherits from parents, yet some of these differences are fuelled by the various microorganisms we harbour and the way they interact with our genes.”

Of the 90 participants in the study, 40 tested positive for the algae virus. Those who tested positive performed worse on tests designed to measure the speed and accuracy of visual processing. They also achieved lower scores in tasks designed to measure attention.

Humans’ bodies contain trillions of bacteria, viruses and fungi. Most are harmless, but the findings of this research show that there some microbes can have a detrimental impact on cognitive functions, while leaving individuals healthy.

The study’s findings were published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Monday, November 03, 2014

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Gender Equality and Gene-culture Co-evolution


The ratio of index finger length to ring finger length provides an index of sexual differentiation. Credit: Wikimedia Commons
The ratio of index finger length to ring finger length provides an index of sexual differentiation. Credit: Wikimedia Commons
....
"In general, women from Northwest Europe have more masculine digit ratios, whereas women from farther east and south have more feminine digit ratios. This geographical trend is more pronounced for the right hand than for the left hand. Since the right-hand digit ratio is associated with social dominance, Northwest Europeans may be less sexually differentiated for that particular trait, as opposed to being less sexually differentiated in general.
Presumably, this isn’t a new tendency. Women must have been more socially dominant among Northwest Europeans even before the late 19th century and the earliest movements for women’s suffrage. So how far back does the tendency go? To medieval times? To pre-Christian times? It seems to go back at least to medieval times and, as such, forms part of the Western European Marriage Pattern." ...
For more go to: http://www.unz.com/pfrost/gender-equality-and-gene-culture-co-evolution/

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

...a culture that views the prizing of efficiency as almost vulgar.



Truths of a French Village

NY Times http://nyti.ms/1yosFSU

By Roger Cohen


A few weeks ago I was in France, where I’ve owned a village house for almost 20 years that I am now planning to sell. A real estate agent had taken a look at the property and we had made an appointment to discuss how to proceed. She swept into the kitchen, a bundle of energy and conviction, with an impassioned appeal:
“Monsieur Cohen, whatever you do, you must on no account sell this house!”
I gazed at her, a little incredulous.
“You cannot sell it. This is a family home. You know it the moment you step in. You sense it in the walls. You breathe it in every room. You feel it in your bones. This is a house you must keep for your children. I will help you sell it if you insist, but my advice is not to sell. You would be making a mistake.”
This was, shall we say, a cultural moment, one of those times when a door opens and you gaze, if not into the soul of a country, at least into territory that is distinct and deep and almost certainly has greater meaning than the headlines and statistics that are supposed to capture the state of a nation, in this case one called France, whose malaise has become an object of fascination.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Culture as a National Trait

September 17, 2014

Why Germans Pay Cash for Almost Everything

Matt Phillips, Quartz

The Associated Press
As banks, technology giants and would-be disruptors such as Square scrummage over the payment system of the future, German consumers seem perfectly happy with the payment system of the past. Germany remains one of the most cash-intensive advanced economies on earth.
Read Full Article ››

Friday, July 18, 2014

On the Speed of Evolution: The New Science of Evolutionary Forecasting

Newly discovered patterns in evolution may help scientists make accurate short-term predictions.  Full article here~ http://www.simonsfoundation.org/quanta/20140717-the-new-science-of-evolutionary-forecasting 

Also, go back to a previous related blog post  http://cultureplaces.blogspot.com/2010/09/more-on-near-term-evolution.html






Doebeli’s bacteria echoed the evolution of lizards in the Caribbean. Each time the lizards arrived on an island, they diversified into many of the same forms, each with its own set of adaptations. Doebeli’s bacteria diversified as well — and did so in flask after flask....
To get a deeper understanding of this predictable evolution, Doebeli and his postdoctoral researcher, Matthew Herron, sequenced the genomes of some of the bacteria from these experiments. In three separate populations they discovered that the bacteria had evolved in remarkable parallel. In every case, many of the same genes had mutated....

Thursday, July 10, 2014

How Much Do Our Genes Influence Our Political Beliefs?

By Tom Merle on Thursday, July 10, 2014 at 10:52am
Thomas Edsall CONTRIBUTING OP-ED WRITER The New York Times

 http://www.nytimes.com/2014/07/09/opinion/thomas-edsall-how-much-do-our-genes-influence-our-political-beliefs.html?src=me&module=Ribbon&version=context&region=Header&action=click&contentCollection=Most%20Emailed&pgtype=Blogs

How Much Do Our Genes Influence Our Political Beliefs?

It’s been a key question of American politics since at least 1968: Why do so many poor, working-class and lower-middle-class whites — many of them dependent for survival on government programs — vote for Republicans?

The debate over the motives of conservative low-income white voters remains unresolved, but two recent research papers suggest that the hurdles facing Democrats in carrying this segment of the electorate may prove difficult to overcome.

In “Obedience to Traditional Authority: A heritable factor underlying authoritarianism, conservatism and religiousness,” published by the journal Personality and Individual Differences in 2013, three psychologists write that “authoritarianism, religiousness and conservatism,” which they call the “traditional moral values triad,” are “substantially influenced by genetic factors.” According to the authors — Steven Ludeke of Colgate, Thomas J. Bouchard of the University of Minnesota, and Wendy Johnson of the University of Edinburgh — all three traits are reflections of “a single, underlying tendency,” previously described in one word by Bouchard in a 2006 paper as “traditionalism.” Traditionalists in this sense are defined as “having strict moral standards and child-rearing practices, valuing conventional propriety and reputation, opposing rebelliousness and selfish disregard of others, and valuing religious institutions and practices.”

Monday, June 23, 2014

“Culture”: a user’s guide

David de Ugarte 57 ~ April 11th, 2013  http://english.lasindias.com/culture-a-users-guide

What is national culture, really, and how should it be understood when it’s time to travel and deal with people “from outside?”
puerosetvexiliosWhile the word “people” is in ever-greater danger of sliding, the word “culture” was born in a dangerous place, because, in spite of how it might appear, it’s very much a political term, a concept formed and created in the bosom of German romantic nationalism. It carries such amibiguity that Gustavo Bueno, a notable archaeologist of concepts, ended up exclaiming that

"No one understands what Culture is, as no one understood in the days of yesteryear what the Grace of God was. Culture is a myth, and an obscurantist myth, as was the myth of Grace in the Middle Ages or as was the “twentieth-century myth,” the myth of Race, in the first half of that century. In a certain way, it could be said that the myth of Culture incorporates, additionally, through the nationalisms of the end of the century, many of the functions that the myth of Race performed until the end of World War II."
What Bueno is telling us in his book on the topic is that culture, once it ceases to mean the “cultivation” of knowledge itself and begins to refer, as Herder says, to who-knows-what characteristic of “people,” it can’t be anything other than national culture, and as such, the product and central 
object of the “Culture State,” which is the nation-state.
And what does that mean when I deal with “outsiders?”

The State, the media, and education are creators of national culture. And although 
some people understand that it constitutes them, in reality, they are only the ones who 
choose to be constituted by it. As Foucault describes, from its origins, “biopolitics,”
 the conditioning that the State and large-scale organizations subject people to, works 
“statistically,” which is to say, it is a constraint, but not determinant, on each one
And it also varies over time as a function of different capacities and crises. This is 
something that is accentuated with decomposition.

So, “cultural studies” and trend reports are useless to me?  Statistical matters must 
be understood statistically, which often means that, concretely,they contribute little
.National culture operates as a context that delimits what’s acceptable, but it 
doesn’t tell us anything at all about the person or the real community in front 
of us… which is what matters to us. It doesn’t do me much good to know that 
roast beef is traditional and even part of national identity in Uruguay, and txuletón
 in Biscay, if I don’t know it the person I’m dealing with is a vegetarian. I can have
 good statistics on the most widespread values in China, but in reality, the family 
 business culture of a concrete businessperson probably has nothing to do with them.

What makes sense, then? Studying ideological frameworks, the evolution of 
consumption patterns, theevolution of social archetypes… and understand them 
as a framework, as a changing space, not as the result of “nature” or
 an “immanent spirit.”