Monday, June 23, 2014

“Culture”: a user’s guide

David de Ugarte 57 ~ April 11th, 2013

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.”

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Nature, nurture and liberal values (snippets)

By Roger Scruton JANUARY 25, 2012

Biology determines our behaviour more than it suits many to acknowledge. But people—and politics and morality—cannot be described just by neural impulses
Human Nature by Jesse Prinz (Allen Lane, £22)
Incognito by David Eagleman (Canongate, £20)
You and Me: the Neuroscience of Identity by Susan Greenfield (Notting Hill Editions, £10)

The answer given by evolutionary psychologists is that culture is an adaptation, which exists because it conferred a reproductive advantage on our hunter-gatherer ancestors. According to this view many of the diverse customs that the standard social science model attributes to nurture are local variations of attributes acquired 70 or more millennia ago, during the Pleistocene age, and now (like other evolutionary adaptations) “hard-wired in the brain.” But if this is so, cultural characteristics may not be as plastic as the social scientists suggest. There are features of the human condition, such as gender roles, that people have believed to be cultural and therefore changeable. But if culture is an aspect of nature, “cultural” does not mean “changeable.” Maybe these controversial features of human culture are part of the genetic endowment of human kind.

Monday, June 09, 2014

The Biology of Risk


CreditJonathon Rosen
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Continue reading the main story

By John Coates, NY Times 6/7/14

SIX years after the financial meltdown there is once again talk about market bubbles. Are stocks succumbing to exuberance? Is real estate? We thought we had exorcised these demons. It is therefore with something close to despair that we ask: What is it about risk taking that so eludes our understanding, and our control?
Part of the problem is that we tend to view financial risk taking as a purely intellectual activity. But this view is incomplete. Risk is more than an intellectual puzzle — it is a profoundly physical experience, and it involves your body. Risk by its very nature threatens to hurt you, so when confronted by it your body and brain, under the influence of the stress response, unite as a single functioning unit. This occurs in athletes and soldiers, and it occurs as well in traders and people investing from home. The state of your body predicts your appetite for financial risk just as it predicts an athlete’s performance.
If we understand how a person’s body influences risk taking, we can learn how to better manage risk takers. We can also recognize that mistakes governments have made have contributed to excessive risk taking.

Tuesday, June 03, 2014

‘Free choice’ in primates can be altered through brain stimulation

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When electrical pulses are applied to the ventral tegmental area of their brain, macaques presented with two images change their preference from one image to the other. The study by researchers Wim Vanduffel and John Arsenault (KU Leuven and Massachusetts General Hospital) is the first to confirm a causal link between activity in the ventral tegmental area and choice behaviour in primates.

Monday, June 02, 2014

Big Mac, Thin Wallet

IN recent years we have seen plenty of studies of the impact of fast food on our bodies. But what about our psychological health?
It stands to reason that fast food would have an effect on our mental state. From its production to its consumption, fast food both embodies and symbolizes speed and instant gratification. Moreover, through extensive franchising and large advertising budgets, fast-food companies shape many of the cues in our everyday environment.

Sunday, June 01, 2014

With South Bronx Trail, a History and a Culture Will Be Clearly Marked


A tour led by Elena Martinez, center, visits spots under consideration for inclusion on the South Bronx Culture Trail. CreditNicole Bengiveno/The New York Times
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Casa Amadeo on Prospect Avenue, a Latin record store on the National Register of Historic Places, is perhaps the only place in the city where one can worship at a shrine dedicated to the Puerto Rican composer Rafael Hernández.
On a recent Saturday, Miguel Angel Amadeo told the tale of his shop’s beginnings in East Harlem, its move to the Bronx and Mr. Amadeo’s reign as owner, cultural arbiter and link to politicians, salsa legends and historians since 1969.