Wednesday, June 10, 2009

CRAFTINISTA: It's Evolution

Something I came across yesterday piqued my interest and sent me into brainiac tailspin. It was an article in the Science section of the latest Economist (ahem, your Godfather is a dork, I do not deny this) entitled "Blood and Treasure: Warfare, culture and human evolution". Anyone who knows me well can attest to the fact that nothing gets me hot like the words 'culture' and 'evolution', and well, throw in 'warfare', and that is just the icing on the braincake. But, I digress. So, this article states that some geneticists, anthropologists and the like, are changing they way they look at cultural sophistication. Previously, it was thought that culture evolved as individual intelligence evolved-so say you are living in Africa making bone harpoons 90,000 years ago, well, if you pass this skill on, it will naturally become more effective as time goes on, and culture will become more complex, no? Well, no. Why? Because if harpoon man lives in a very small community of folks who are all consumed doing their 'own thing', like say, his only surviving child, necklace boy, only likes to make shelled jewelry, then perhaps this skill dies with the man only then needing to be re-invented by someone else in the tribe after they all start getting really hungry (we see these 're-inventing the wheel' type scenarios all throughout human history, for instance, the harpoon disappears and pops up again in Europe 35,000 years ago). But, say harpoon man and necklace boy live in a bit larger community where the group works as a whole, then the invention can be worked on by many members of the group to become a more efficient tool. This is called 'group selection':"...collaborative individuals will often do better than groups of selfish ones, and thus prosper..."* And where does warfare fit in? And forgive me, and indulge me, for our purposes I would like to use the term 'warfare' as a metaphor for any cultural struggle, i.e. economic, etc. Dr. Samuel Bowles of the Santa Fe Institute, NM says, in a crude and ugly nutshell, that war (and strife) create much higher levels of altruistic traits in people that in turn push human populations to work together and become incredibly inventive which leads to more cultural complexity as long as the community is large enough and altruistic enough. What the hell is your point? you may be asking, well, this is: CRAFTINISTA is reinventing the wheel. We are certainly not the first movement to try to steer local communities to supporting local artists/designers/businesses, the only difference is, this time we have the population, intelligence, and altruism (perhaps due to our economic downturn and multiple wars) to make it stick if we want it to, but it means, we must do it together to push forth a real cultural (r)evolution. I don't know about you, but 55,000 years seems like a long time to go without a harpoon.
*The Economist 6/6/2009 p 77-78
Prehistoric Man Hunting Bears by Emmanuel Benner


Steven said...

Interesting. August and I were just talking about this the other day. Specifically about the need for specialization and sizable population to advance technology/civilization. We were noting that all of civilization is a collaborative effort; no one person can make a pencil. Oddly enough, this makes the diy movement somewhat ironic as there is only so much you can do yourself :)

The Godfather said...

unless, you collaborate; which is key. but you are right...the balance is specialization and general skills. my hubby likes to link rebuilding motorcycles and gardening, but yeah, i can't raise chickens or make my own shoes...YET!