anthropology

How Writing by Hand Makes Kids Smarter

Many early indications were that the increasing prevalence of digital communications -- even those written conversations that take place via mobile devices or instant-messaging services that seem to engender a sort of abbreviated 'txt spk' -- were not apparently having any significant effect on our ability to recall more formal and socially acceptable grammatical styles when the need would arise. In a classroom setting, for instance, or when typing a business letter, it was shown that instant message users could readily 'revert' to the style that was expected of them. However, as digital communications continue to penetrate into our global monoculture, and perhaps ESPECIALLY when encountering other forms of written language that are more ideographic or pictographic than phonetic, we are seeing that these early assumptions could very well be mistaken. The phenomenon of "character amnesia" is becoming much more noticed by the media in Asian nations; where more complicated script leaves children (and tech-savvy adults alike) at a loss when trying to recall the pen-strokes that produce the written forms of language. And so, it's becoming apparent that comparisons of 'instant messaging' with 'email' or even printed documents that are type-written with machine aids is not at all equivalent to comparisons of machine-aided writing versus writing done solely by hand. Reports are now flooding-in, that confirm what should have likely been obvious from the first time humans used a calculator or a spell-checker... digital assistance for actions that were once solely mental & physical actions is leading to atrophy of our innate abilities. Just like most any other part of our body; the less we use our brains, the weaker they become. And so, while exploring this entry on how writing by hand makes kids smarter, perhaps it's worth asking yourself: When is the last time that YOU put a pen to paper? (continued...)

¿Y2K y 12? -- Mayans INSIST 2012 isn't the end of the world

Mayans may INSIST 2012 isn't the end of the world, but millions of bored neurotic New Agers, conspiracy theorists, and hucksters from the world's post-industrial societies will inevitably refuse to take notice of the opinion of a bunch of silly Mayans... "Mayans? Aren't they extinct??"

This Associated Press article doesn't get too involved in trying to explain the differences between linear and cyclic views of time, or any of the other vast differences between the cosmovisions of the indigenous inhabitants of the New World and the cosmovisions of the Old World conquerors/settlers/occupiers. Still, it's worthy of reading, especially for anyone who has ever had any curiosity about the whole '2012 Mayan prophecy' issue... and ESPECIALLY for anyone who thinks the Earth's magnetic poles are gonna shift and civilization is gonna end and we should all be burying gold bars and canned food.

The article doesn't mention this (for obvious reasons), but Mayans are far more concerned with transgenic corn from Monsanto contaminating the epicenter of biodiversity for the originally domesticated Zea mays, and any of us should be as well. Millenarianism regarding the year 2012 is just one more distraction among many in our global consumer culture. We all need to stay focused on the real structural problems of the real world... so that if a real apocalypse ever does occur then it will be an opportunity for creation of a better world, instead of just a chance to start making the same mistakes. Anyway, enough polemicizing, (dinner is ready, hehe), just click on through to read the article....  (continued...)

The Human Baby -- by James Kimmel, Ph.D.

"Tenderness appeared in man's mammalian ancestors eons before he learned to preserve fire or shape a stone." -- Lewis Mumford, The Conduct of Life

Ninety-nine percent of all humans who have ever lived were hunter-gatherers. Studies of hunter-gatherer societies readily confirm the respect given, and the support provided, by the group to a mother nurturing a baby. Since ancient times, however, continuing until the present, there has been a concerted effort in Western civilization to eliminate the necessity for the natural mother to nurture her newborn. Mothers in many cultures and at various times have been encouraged to suppress their tender feelings toward their babies, discouraged from nurturing them in the biological human way, and to give over their baby's care to others.
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The history of childhood in the civilized world reveals that babies have not always been perceived as lovable or needing tenderness. At various times and for varied reasons, they have been seen as evil, harmful, burdensome, worthless, unwanted, and expendable. They have, of course, been treated in accordance with these beliefs about them (deMause, Beekman). Lloyd de Mause, in his book on the history of child care, has stated, "The history of childhood is a nightmare from which we have only recently begun to awaken. The further back in history one goes, the lower the level of child care, and the more likely children are to be killed, abandoned, beaten, terrorized, and sexually abused".
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DeMause is referring to the societies of civilization, not to societies of people living outside civilization. The story of people who live as hunter-gatherers is quite different as regards children than the one described by him. Studies by anthropologists of hunter-gatherer groups do not describe infant and child care in these groups as a "nightmare." They usually describe the care of the young as "indulgent".
....
A human baby born today, to any parents anywhere in the world, would have no trouble fitting into a hunter-gatherer society. He evolved to do so. On the other hand, any baby born today in modern society does not fit our world, nor would any baby born in the past fit it either. Babies (and mothers) have not changed in their reproductive biological or genetic structure; it is society and mothers who have changed in their response to, and in their attitude toward, babies. We no longer value and support mothering or the babies' critical need to develop in relation to a tender, nurturing mother.

[ed. Those are some excerpts of a brilliant essay by Dr. James Kimmel that offers a sort of broad anthropological overview of childhood... About what our species has evolved to expect in terms of childrearing... and about what our contemporary culture seeks (and succeeds) to do with its proscribed childrearing practices (which amounts to acculturation; domestication & alienation from nature, including alienation from our natural selves and others like us.).... I really encourage everyone to read the essay in its entirety, even those of you who think reproduction is 'evil' and plan to never have any association with children.]  (continued...)

The Past Didn't Go Anywhere


        "The past is never dead. It's not even past." -- William Faulkner

This week the world learned that the Cold War didn't really 'end', per se, and that the Neolithic revolution isn't quite complete. (continued...)

The Worst Mistake in the History of the Human Race -- by Jared Diamond

To science we owe dramatic changes in our smug self-image. Astronomy taught us that our earth isn’t the center of the universe but merely one of billions of heavenly bodies. From biology we learned that we weren’t specially created by God but evolved along with millions of other species. Now archaeology is demolishing another sacred belief: that human history over the past million years has been a long tale of progress. In particular, recent discoveries suggest that the adoption of agriculture, supposedly our most decisive step toward a better life, was in many ways a catastrophe from which we have never recovered. (continued...)

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