Sunday, November 21, 2010

Cultural Change in Complex Societies

Again as part of my efforts to gain an education I wrote the following for my Anthropology class. The questions were written by other class members and are provided only as reference. The names have been shortened to ensure privacy.
Author: Old Sneelock
Subject: Cultural Change in Complex Societies
Can cultural change ever be "complete" in a large and complex society such as the U.S.? 
To answer this question I must ask myself several other questions. When is a change complete? Is the change complete when every member of a culture embraces the change? Is it complete when a voting majority accepts change as positive? These questions help me to define whether a large and complex society can every completely change. My answer to all of the above questions is a resounding NO! 
Even with mass, almost instantaneous communication, rapid transportation, and widespread mobility, change is a gradual process requiring a finite time to be complete. With instantaneous communication ideas can spread through the culture quickly, acceptance is less quick to occur. Rather than a change similar to a photograph being developed, with all areas changing at the same moment, change spreads like ripples in a pond. Each wave of change is caused by an event, either a single event or simultaneous events occurring in different areas.  Like a wave propagating from a single pebble dropped into the water, the wave of change can be blocked or damped by shoals, or competing waves, leaving areas of the ponds surface or cultural identity unchanged.
Is it likely that all members would ever feel the same kinds of environmental changes, or perceive the same sets of problems and opportunities, such that everyone agrees to the same cultural innovations? 
Can I accept change without being biased by the effect that the change brings to my established personal culture? Am I unique in this perspective? Using the example that Omohundro uses of the cell phone I have to again answer NO!!
The Cell Phone as a cultural change mechanism is an unacceptable invasion of my culture. I view work as what I do to support my family, period. When I am finished with an assigned task I expect to be able to leave the area of work and pursue those constitutionally given rights of life, liberty, and the chasing after happiness. The cell phone, and the prior invention of the devil, the pager, changed my definition of work in 1994. Work now became a 24 hour period of continuous harassment. As a “Person of Responsibility” I am now considered a prime member of the “Team.”  By being available for inane questions at any moment I allow people, who previously would have been expected to make a decision on their own concerning the minutia of their own tasks, to pass on the burden of decision making to me.
At the same time that I struggle with the constraints of constant communication, others embrace it as the answer to a long felt problem. They believe that the only true answer to any question is the one developed under their control. An idea is put forth, Human Resources demands that before a person is transported to a hospital for treatment a phone call must be placed to them. Can they improve the care of the injured? Is there a compelling need for them to speak to and comfort the affected employee? NO! The phone call is recorded. A voice mail is sent. Control is established and another chip is in the wall of individual freedom.
Are there some issues that the people in state-level societies are most likely to respond to in unison?
The same control freaks that have been floated to the top of the cultural punch bowl are gravitating to positions of political authority at an alarming rate. Their need for control is fed by their ability to establish that parents are unable to provide for their children in a socially acceptable manner. To improve the lives of the children we feed them breakfast at school. Their parents are both working and since the shifts require them both to be on the road simultaneously they can’t be home to feed them and put them on the bus. Why are they on the road? 50% of a working income goes to taxes, federal, state, local, sales, property, license fees, etc. $90.00 per month was broadcast on a radio commercial today as a low fee for a cell phone account based on Verizon’s judgment. Mom and Dad, if dad is still there each have a phone.  A non-supervisory employee at my company, who accepts this premise, will pay a quarter of a month’s salary in cell phone charges alone. If they choose not to pay this draconian charge, they risk being docked a day’s wages for missing a call. The company has established that they must respond to in 60 minutes or face disciplinary action. 2 such occurrences mean discharge. They leave their children at the bus stop or the end of the driveway, pray silently that they’ll be alright and drive off to their job.
Are there certain types of state organizations that are better adapted to deal with diverse responses by the populace?  I believe that all state organizations are ideally suited to deal with diverse responses. As an example I’ll use the IRS. Every member of the population under the control of the US Government is required, by law, to pay income taxes. When Wesley Snipes followed the advice of his tax experts and moved to what he was told was a tax haven on an offshore island, the IRS swore out a warrant for his arrest, prosecuted his case and found him guilty. He was fined a large amount of money and forced to pay back taxes.  Every state agency has the full authority to arrest and try and put to death any person whether citizen or not for perceived crimes against their authority.  Think Waco.
Finally, is it realistic to believe, given the statistics presented in your Lecture Notes, that large and complex societies will ever achieve the level of stability of smaller-scale societies?
Stability is a relative word. How long does a culture need to stay unchanged, or at least minimally so, to be considered stable? Is the measure the life span of the observer? Could it be the election cycle of a democratic society? Would stability only be defined by relative permanence of a cemetery’s population? Not much response to change in the neighborhood by that cultural group.
I think that the seething mass that forms any culture is best defined by it’s response to the changes that it undergoes. Large and complex societies constantly change in order to stay the same.  The basic premise of the US constitution is a common link to all the members of the culture. The rule of law and the judicial system is also a common denominator in the cultures response to change.  By the simple fact that small subcultures, like the Amish or Chinese, within the larger culture resist change, while remaining members of the larger culture, no large or complex society will ever remain as stable as a smaller group of Polynesian Islanders with little contact with humanity as a whole.
Is it a worthy goal, or is it human nature that "things fall apart"? 
Families divide when sons and daughters reach an age where the drive for independence overcomes the need for support. Be fruitful and multiply drives some humans to spread ever wider in search of opportunity. If this wasn’t true, I’d be planting potatoes in the field of the Schwanstien valley in Switzerland, on the same land that my family had tilled for centuries. Did things fall apart and cause me to end up in Union City, Michigan? Or did the normal nature of any organism, whether it is animal or vegetable, drive my mother’s and father’s ancestors to explore and expand?
The nature of the universe is entropy.  All things left to their own devices move to a lower energy state. I think societies also follow this rule. They rise like the Pyramids and fall like the lighthouse at Alexandria. They move outward from the pressure of their own population and collapse under the burden of sustaining a perceived level of affluence among their population.
After reading over this one, cocoa won’t get it. I’m getting out the scotch.

Forum: Week 8 - Cultural Change in Complex Societies
Date: Tue Mar 04 2008 15:36
Author: Heather V. 
Subject: Re: Cultural Change in Complex Societies
I have to say David, I was a little afraid to open your post and of course I haven't been let down. I love your realistic way of looking at things. You bring many average problems to the table. I love your thoughts about the cell phone and your last two answers about stability and things falling apart! Great job as usual! You put my posts to shame

Date: Fri Mar 07 2008 21:27
Author: Old Sneelock 
The comments had the desired effect. Being a registered cynic I am required by ethical constraints to shield the timid from the full effect of a uncensored display of intellectual anarchy.
I had just spent several hours of study for my class, Culturally Sensitive Practice in Social Work, and I had developed a full head of steam concerning my responsibilities as one of the fortunate ones who are destroying the world with wanton consumerism.
Tonight I decided to post before exposing myself to the disrupting influence of being culturally sensitive. 

Date: Thu Mar 06 2008 20:31
Author: Sarah M 
The entropic nature of the universe huh? Does that apply to cultures or just objects? People or systems of nature? To me this is more interesting that culture change LOL. I don't know what kind of science background you have, but theoretical physics is my thing and I'd take you up on any conversation you want to start...granted I'm not that proficient lol.
But anyway...back to your post......
Now that I've read it, I see that you touched on some of the things into question above. But, enough of that. All I can say is that, like Heather, my posts have also been put to shame. In any case though, I did have some questions. I didn't agree with this: "With instantaneous communication ideas can spread through the culture quickly, acceptance is less quick to occur." Maybe you can explain that to me...the more fluidly an idea generates through a given time and place, the more fluidly a decision is likely to be made about that choice. Why would acceptance be less likely to occur?
Thanks for your insight!

Date: Fri Mar 07 2008 21:13
Author: Old Sneelock
Thanks for your kind words. Theoretical physics is an interest of mine also. I'm sure I would enjoy the chance to discuss the nature of the universe as long as I don't get a headache from the effort.  ;-) With little training in other than the practical application of physics, I still enjoy thinking about why I can envision the end of the street, the next county, even the vast distance to the nearest star, but I can't get past the concept of infinity. At the end of the universe what's on the other side?
“The entropic nature of the universe… Does that apply to cultures or just objects? People or systems of nature? To me this is more interesting that culture change LOL.
In his web article, Entropy and the Universe,  Sebastian Bleasdale writes:

“What is Entropy?

The actions of anything, from the flight of an insect to the movements of the largest galaxies, are caused by energy changes. If we are to comprehend the universe, it is vital to understand energy and the rules governing it. In particular, it is vital to understand the laws of thermodynamics.
The first of these laws tells us there is a fixed amount of energy in the universe. Energy can be changed from one form to another, but never created or destroyed. Energy which appears to have disappeared has in fact been converted into a form we cannot detect - for example, sound energy seems to be lost, but really turns into minute quantities of heat.
Although energy cannot be destroyed, it is of little use to anyone if it cannot make things happen. Unfortunately, the second law of thermodynamics tells us all energy changes decrease the amount of useful energy in the universe...”
“Entropy is a measure of the lack of order in the energy. There is no definite value of entropy for a given system (as there is for, say, mass), as entropy is a purely statistical measure. When there is zero entropy, all the energy can be used. As the entropy increases, available energy decreases until, with maximum entropy, no useful energy is available…”
“All systems, therefore, tend towards a state with maximum entropy”
When viewed from a distance entropy applies to everything. Fire burns, consumes the available fuel, and the chemical reaction ends. The ashes and surroundings cool, and achieve steady state with the environment. Cultures rise, expand, consume the available resources, and decline. The surroundings may feed on the remains but the culture changes or ends. Both involve moving from a higher energy state to a lower.  In the case of fire, the movement is from potential energy to kinetic energy.  In the cultural situation the movement is from something that is considered a worthwhile possibility to nonexistence.
In response to your question.
"I didn't agree with this: "With instantaneous communication ideas can spread through the culture quickly, acceptance is less quick to occur." Maybe you can explain that to me...the more fluidly an idea generates through a given time and place, the more fluidly a decision is likely to be made about that choice. Why would acceptance be less likely to occur?"
An idea is postulated by a person who happens to have contacts with mass media, Radio, TV, or the internet, take your pick. This theoretical person contacts the mass media and proclaims the one truth for all to hear. Without a clear reason for the average person to believe the idea the concept is ridiculed and dies without changing a significant portion of the societies mind. 
The concepts that are easily accepted are the ones that:
1. Don't currently affect the life style of the listening group.
2. Don't cost money. Or cost someone who's not seen as part of the listening group.
3. Point out the error of some other group.
4. Point out the greatness of the listening group.
These concepts only work when addressing a small group, say half the populace of the US. It is difficult to get 100 percent acceptance of ideas requiring a "Them vs. Us" position of the listening group. Generally those situations create a 5% following and a 5% opposition with a 90% middle ground of people who don't really care one way or the other.
That explanation covers the majority of ideas. Any group consists of a spectrum of people, old, young, rich, poor, educated, illiterate, interested, or unknowing and uncaring. Getting any concept to be accepted by such a diverse group requires a common denominator. The 9/11 attack would be one example. The event galvanized a large portion of the US citizenry into action. People were afraid. Where would they strike next! Then people were angry. Who could have done this? Then large quantities of people joined together, flags were flown, firefighters and police were praised, people volunteered to help from every corner of the country. The majority of US society was moved to action.
Now years have passed and the fever has died down. I have heard, although I don't listen to television, that on the View, Rosie O’Donnell said that the WTC was a conspiracy because she had never heard of fire affecting steel. As a welder, and blacksmith, to me that has got to be one of the most idiotic statements ever. Yet with her statement she sparked debate again on the origin of the disaster. Pundits the world over picked at the idea that kerosene burning at 2800 F. could cause steel, which reaches plastic deformation at 1800 F. or yellow heat, to collapse. With little actual data the Pro Conspiracy group again unsuccessfully tried to convince the majority of the validity of their arguments.
So to support one part of your argument, decisions were quickly made in both instances. Right after the attack the decision was made that:
1. There was an enemy that endangered the group.
2. The enemy was definitely a them not an us. The "Them" group claimed the act for their own.
3. Pointed out the error/evil of some other group. The enemy.
4. Pointed out the greatness of the listening group.
Right after Rosie's statement, and the following reiteration of same, a decision was made. The statement wasn't supported because it:
1. Tried to affect the life style of the listening group by saying they were all foolish to believe in the ideas that they held.
2. Cost everyone, in the listening group, self respect by claiming they were the evil/enemy for having caused the disaster through direct action or inaction.
3. Tried to point out a possible error of the listening group, in believing what they were told.
4. Pointed to the listening group and claimed they were at fault.
In the first case acceptance by the majority was quick but the entire group was obviously not convinced. In the second, acceptance by the majority hasn't happened yet.
A decision can be pro or con. Acceptance can only be pro. Any dissenting in the group negates acceptance.  Therefore the speed of dissemination of an idea is a function of time.  The speed of acceptance is a function of the validity of the idea.
Long way around the barn but I hope that explains what I was thinking.
Symbols can say a lot with a simple line i.e.  ~ = infinity.
The symbol must have the same meaning for both the initiator and the recipient of the symbol for meaning to be transmitted.

Date: Mon Mar 10 2008 13:07
Author: Sarah  
don't know if you will get this because it's from weeks past, but all I can do is sit here with my mouth open in suprise and awe. Thank you for your VERY in-depth response. The article on Entropy is really interesting to me and the thoughts thereafter proved inately well put and researched. I want to comment on the subject of Rosie and her "slip up" that both my father and myself found to be painfully stupid on her part. And, youre right, others with her same limited knowledge, were prone to accept these ideas as they came from someone so socially acceptable. In any case, I just wanted to say thanks for getting into that conversation--let me know anytime you want to talk about the universe ;)
Date: Sat Mar 08 2008 21:01
Author: Lisa R. 
 Wow...I always enjoy reading your posts and this one was especially interesting!  Great examples for each of your questions, you really do a great job with these assignments

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