Monday, December 01, 2014

If only the Tea Party activists ate rice every single day!

Margaret Thatcher famously commented that there is no such thing as society, in her articulation of a political economic thinking that promoted the individual and individual's rights.  Thatcher and Reagan set the world onto reexamining the role of the individual and the individual's contract with others.  As we look around, it is hard not to notice that we are yet to arrive at any definitive version of the contract--in fact, our disagreements appear to be getting more and more intense on the issue of individuals and society (think Obamacare, for instance.)

An anthropology professor notes in the NY Times forum, "The Stone":
modern evolutionary research, anthropology, cognitive psychology and neuroscience have come down on the side of the philosophers who have argued that the basic unit of human social life is not and never has been the selfish, self-serving individual. Contrary to libertarian and Tea Party rhetoric, evolution has made us a powerfully social species, so much so that the essential precondition of human survival is and always has been the individual plus his or her relationships with others.
"Plus" is the operative word there.
The sanctification of the rights of individuals and their liberties today by libertarians and Tea Party conservatives is contrary to our evolved human nature as social animals. There was never a time in history before civil society when we were each totally free to do whatever we elected to do. We have always been social and caring creatures. The thought that it is both rational and natural for each of us to care only for ourselves, our own preservation, and our own achievements is a treacherous fabrication. This is not how we got to be the kind of species we are today.
I don't imagine the patron saint of the Tea Party, Sarah Palin, reading that essay and thinking about the ideas discussed there.  It is a shame that from the intellectual weights of a Jefferson and Franklin and more we have now arrived at the likes of Palin as powerful leaders.  This surely cannot be evolution! ;)

So, why the rice, you ask?  There is a reason, dear reader.  Keep in mind that this blogger does not simply rant like how Palin does!

Here is what a report in the Scientific American notes:
research from the U.S. and China indicates that northern Chinese may have a mind-set closer to individualistic Americans than their southern compatriots. And the reason is rice.
Got your interest there?
Farmers north of the Yangtze predominantly grow wheat, and those to the south grow rice. Cultivating rice is very labor- and water-intensive, and it therefore requires sharing resources. Communities have to cooperate to plant and irrigate. Growing wheat requires half the labor and depends more on rainfall patterns, so it can be managed with much less reliance on one's neighbors.
Sets up well for the question, which is:
[University of Virginia doctoral candidate Thomas Talhelm] wondered if agricultural practices could help explain the more individualistic, or Western, mind-set he found in the north compared with the more holistic, or Eastern, way of thinking in the south.
Aren't you dying to know what Talhelm found?
As expected, the researchers found that holistic thought and loyalty were higher in provinces with rice cultivation and that individualism was more common in wheat-farming areas. To see if the rice theory applied beyond students, the researchers also looked at provincial divorce rates, another indicator of individualism. “Wheat regions had a 50 percent higher divorce rate than rice regions,” Talhelm says.
Aha!  There is more:
The rice theory jibes with other cultural research into how agriculture influences thinking, explains Richard Nisbett, a professor of psychology at the University of Michigan, who was not involved in the study. For example, Nisbett found that in Turkey, farmers (an interdependent occupation) were much more holistic than herders (an independent occupation).
If only Sarah Palin and the Tea Party nutcases would do some serious reading and thinking before they opened their mouths, and if only people across the political spectrum engaged in reading and thinking!

Yep, from the New Yorker ;)

2 comments:

  1. The title of your post should have been "If only the Tea Party activists GROW rice every single day!"

    Presumably the research links sociability to growing rice; not eating it. I'll twist your tail (tiger's ?) by suggesting this is an example of the preponderance of useless research that goes on. Interesting, but useless - doesn't mean it shouldn't be done :):) After all we do lots of useless stuff !!

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  2. I disagree with you--this research is not by any means useless. In fact, we need to understand aspects like this because it is important to know how we got here. To quote EO Wilson, again, who himself was quoting some other, "All of man's troubles have arisen from the fact that we do not know what we are." The rice/wheat research and the note on herders, provide us with evolutionary anthropological explanations on what the Libertarians and Tea Party activists claim to be the truth--the supreme rights of the individual. This belief is, for all purposes, the point of departure for innumerable public policy differences--the second half of that quote "[we] do not agree on what we want to be"

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