Thursday, 17 July 2014

“Cultures aren’t museum pieces.”

Suzuki Samurai’s post on Australian aboriginal culture was picked up and linked to by Kate at popular Canadian blog Small Dead Animals (thanks Kate), prompting some mostly interesting comments there.

The most interesting, I thought, was essentially about division-of-labour. Said Steve:

The aborigines didn't have much of a chance to advance culturally. Isolated with a small population doesn't lend itself to rapid advancement. Eurasia was huge teaming with peoples trading and exchanging knowledge. Each culture in Eurasia learned from the other.

The point being that cultures enjoying part of a greater DoL are able to advance and develop much further and faster than those with a lesser DoL – or, in the case of Aboriginal culture for 45,000 years, almost none at all.

Again, there is no shame in that. That’s just the way thing were.

Anyway, I posted this comment in response, which some of you might appreciate:

I really appreciated Steve's point, that "being "isolated with a small population doesn't lend itself to rapid advancement," whereas a culture offering openings for trading and exchanging knowledge does.

@Fred 2: Commenting on this fundamental division-of-labour/multiplication-of-knowledge point, you said, "The Maori, next door, relatively, seem to both have had that AND been much quicker on the uptake [than Australian aboriginals] to absorb and re-organize."

True, but I think that reinforces the point.

Australian aboriginals were isolated on the Australian continent for 45,000 years, without even any pressure to develop beyond their beginnings. Problems with your  neighbours? Then there was plenty of space to find others, or none at all. Problems with food supplies? Walk about and find some elsewhere. There was no need to develop in a place in which population pressure didn't demand it, and no spur to multiply and trade knowledge when, as economist George Reisman talks about in discussing the multiplication of knowledge, everyone you'd meet would all have virtually the same knowledge as you do.

You mention New Zealand Maori. But Maori were at the end of the vast chain of human migration that over two-thousand years or so populated the entire Pacific, arriving in New Zealand around 800-1000 years ago having, as a culture, developed through several hundred cultures resulting from those that broke away from the mainland. Each new voyage from each of these places took what was probably the best of what that culture had developed -- the best ideas, and probably the best people.

That's a hell of a filter -- not just having grown out of several cultures, but also along the lines recognised by Robert Heinlein, that migration itself is a threefold sorting device, a Darwinian selection, by which the best in any culture get up and go, the best of those that go survive the journey, and the best of those that survive flourish when they arrive.

And the Maori who arrived here in New Zealand were part of a culture that had done that hundreds of times over hundreds of years, across the Pacific on the long, long journey here across several hundreds of years.

So it's no wonder the two cultures were very different, both when Europeans arrived, and since.

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