Level of cultural development

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Jurgen Wullenwever
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Level of cultural development

Postby Jurgen Wullenwever » 2011-11-05, 14:38

These recent bouts of hyperpolyglottery on the forum made me wonder what the opposite case would be called, when a person does not have any language. You might recall the case of "Ildefonso", the pseudonym used in describing a deaf man who was discovered having never encountered language some years ago.

I thought of aglot, unglot, inglot, but they seemed unused, so I turned to -lingual instead, and found alingual. Then I read this 2002 article, somewhat politically biased, but then what is not? One passage there confounded me:
http://www.cis.org/AlingualEducation
By plunging masses of people from traditional societies into our modern society, we are replicating the situation when Europeans arrived among American Indians or Australian Aborigines. The conquered peoples were at such a low level of cultural development that their societies morally disintegrated and to this day are beset with massive alcoholism and widespread dysfunction (unlike the more-developed peoples who were conquered by Europe, like those of south or east Asia, who were technologically backward but culturally advanced enough to maintain the integrity of their societies).


I am more into "noble savage"-idealisation, where the primitive peoples are way beyond our modern societies in every aspect, so I was thoroughly shocked. Are and were they so undeveloped socially and culturally that they could not cope with modernity? I thought all societies was equally developed, although my society has been deteriorating this last century, making us largely unfit for everything.

What levels might there be, and how are they measured? Do you feel developed culturally?
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Re: Level of cultural development

Postby Tenebrarum » 2011-11-05, 16:11

I think the right word here is "primitive". My position is that culture is fundamentally intangible, so "cultural development" can mean anything you want it to mean.
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Re: Level of cultural development

Postby Chekhov » 2011-11-05, 16:13

Sounds like victim-blaming to me. The treatment of Native Americans was so brutal it arguably bordered on genocide; the colonized peoples of Asia weren't treated well, but no systemic attempts were made to wipe them out or ethnically cleanse their land*. Besides, their economies didn't start developing to a level near ours until the latter half of the 20th century.

This comes across like more like a right-wing screed than serious academic writing.

*At least no examples come to mind immediately, except maybe the Philippine-American war.
What levels might there be, and how are they measured? Do you feel developed culturally?
I don't believe there are objective standards we can judge cultures by, except morality.
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Re: Level of cultural development

Postby linguoboy » 2011-11-05, 16:21

Jurgen Wullenwever wrote:I am more into "noble savage"-idealisation, where the primitive peoples are way beyond our modern societies in every aspect, so I was thoroughly shocked. Are and were they so undeveloped socially and culturally that they could not cope with modernity? I thought all societies was equally developed, although my society has been deteriorating this last century, making us largely unfit for everything.

I think listening to Mark Krikorian on immigration is a sign of low cultural development. He has no background at all in sociology or anthropology that would qualify him to speak authoritatively on such matters.

It wasn't "cultural development" that ensured the survival of Southeast Asian societies, it was resistance to infection. As SARS reminded us, that part of the world is a major breeding ground for new diseases; it wasn't the natives who were dropping like flies during the colonial period, it was the would-be colonists. Things were very different among more peripheral societies. Does he really think the Asian societies would've held together with mortality rates of 90%? And then to blame the continuing problems among the survivors on "low cultural development" instead of systematic marginalisation, neglect, and discrimination by the dominant society? Yeah, listening to him says a lot about one's preconceived ideas on the subject.

Edit: Here's a brief introduction to mainstream anthropological thought on the subject: http://zompist.wordpress.com/2011/10/29/why-you-want-to-be-a-hunter-gatherer/. You don't have to be a "noble savage idealist" to recognise the proven fact that people from "primitive" cultures integrate much better into our society than we ever could into theirs.
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Re: Level of cultural development

Postby Chekhov » 2011-11-05, 19:12

Gotta love boomerang bigots, eh?
People live longer and eat better than people in any premodern agricultural civilization.
Key word being premodern, though.
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Re: Level of cultural development

Postby johnklepac » 2013-02-02, 23:30

Chekhov wrote:I don't believe there are objective standards we can judge cultures by, except morality.

Morality? Objective? Really?

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Re: Level of cultural development

Postby Levo » 2013-02-05, 10:34

Whoo!
You threw up a very interesting topic, which is actually hot for me :P

I don't know how much you guys are into prehistory, stone-age history. By today, even the most conservative historians agree, that:
Humanity (homo sapiens) have been having exactly the same kind of intelligence, emotions, mental abilities for at least 40 000 years as today. Recent researches has shown that even from further beyond in time, but now let's count only with the most widely accepted date...

The same emotions, love, hate, eyes and sense for arts, passion for tens of thousands of years...
And at school - maybe despite of some exceptional countries - we mostly learn about the last 5000 years only, when writing was already in use.
Tens of thousands of years have passed before and we know almost nothing of those times.

I would never say "primitive" and "developed cultures"... I think most people mean, developed material culture. Or less developed material culture.

Why would a hunter-gatherer tribe be culturally "less-developed", accepting a lot of attitudes that have never been accepted by Europeans until the 20th century (women's issues, sexual orientation, being different in any other way...), and there can be vice versa as well. (no-one is more "intelligent" or "developed".

"European" colonist-imperialist way of organizing the mass-use of guns and other arms are only developed in a way of material culture... Also, having medicines, plumbing-system, automobiles... It is just about using the environment and making our lives more comfortable. It has nothing to do with intelligence or cultural development.
Especially that stress is more common in any society which has already started engaging with agriculture, not even to mention urban life...

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Re: Level of cultural development

Postby Levo » 2013-02-05, 10:45

In my personal opinion,
It is rather a choice... that we imagine life like this... Development could have happened in other ways as well.
Europeans choose a very materialist way, which has its pros and contras.
A typical feature is that it is aggressive/easily wipes out everything that doesn't own the same materialistic means.

Like, you can tell someone you have another opinion and start a discussion with him.
Or you can have a gun and point it to him, so he would obey you.

The problem is not solved, he still doesn't have the same opinion, and will always be different from you, nevertheless your wish will come to action and you will rule. :P
That is mainly that happened to 80% of world population. No surprise they cannot handle "modern" lifestyle without huge problems in their societies for generations.

(note that originally people spent 3-4 hours a day getting the sufficient amount of food, while being hunter-gatherers (our first 35 000 years - if we take humbly homo sapeins times, much longer otherwise). When agriculture became predominant, it needed 12-13 hours of work each day the gain the same amount of calories, and it is pretty new in terms of evolution, like 5000-6000 years since dominant in European population as well.)

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Re: Level of cultural development

Postby BlackZ » 2013-02-05, 13:53

unlike the more-developed peoples who were conquered by Europe, like those of south or east Asia, who were technologically backward but culturally advanced enough to maintain the integrity of their societies.

:doh:
There are four main differences between the colonization of East Asia and of Americas:

1) East Asians were far more advanced technologically than the Native Americans.
2) East Asians had a high resistence to diseases such as smallpox, whilst the Native Americans didn't have.
3) Native Americans were forced quite agressively to "Europanize" their culture, while, as far as I know, such a thing wasn't widespread in East Asia. Portugal, for instance, forbade the use of the Tupi language in Brazil.
4) Immigration to the Americas was so intense that the amount of Europeans surpased the amount of Natives. Such a thing didn't happen in East Asia.
The conquered peoples were at such a low level of cultural development that their societies morally disintegrated and to this day are beset with massive alcoholism and widespread dysfunction

I don't know how's the situation in other countires... But you'll only manage to find a decent job and have decent education opportunities in Brazil if you can write in formal Portuguese decently. Otherwise, it gets a lot harder.

Now, that's a problem for natives of other languages. Such a huge problem that many parents from Amerindian heritage choose to rise their children monolingual in Portuguese. The fact that many of our governments (especially the military dictatorship) forced a Portuguese education in children who couldn't speak Portuguese really didn't help...

The effects described in this article are caused mostly by this marginalization, not by "lack cultural development".
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Re: Level of cultural development

Postby Levo » 2013-02-05, 15:29

Very good points BlackZ

...It is not so much different even in the heart of Europe. You have to know two foreign languages, have a decent education, including all Western customs and habits in order to get a job with a normal salary. Otherwise, you cannot live the below mentioned "cultured lifestyle", which I would call elsehow though. And the original one is lost long ago...so, otherwise, only urban poverty is left.
No way back, just forward. So, you have to assimilate.
And it is even worse elsewhere.

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Re: Level of cultural development

Postby johnklepac » 2013-02-21, 2:39

There are some characteristics of a culture it's possible to be pretty objective about and use to assess its perceived level of cultural development, such as GDP per capita, incidences and prevalences of diseases, and life expectancies. The word "development," though, seems to ruin the possibility of true objectivity because it's so vague.

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Re: Level of cultural development

Postby linguoboy » 2013-02-21, 3:02

johnklepac wrote:There are some characteristics of a culture it's possible to be pretty objective about and use to assess its perceived level of cultural development, such as GDP per capita

How is GDP per capita a good measure of "cultural development"? By most measures, the per capita GDP of the UAE is on the order one-and-a-half times the EU average. Where would you rather live?
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Re: Level of cultural development

Postby johnklepac » 2013-02-21, 3:08

linguoboy wrote:How is GDP per capita a good measure of "cultural development"? By most measures, the per capita GDP of the UAE is on the order one-and-a-half times the EU average. Where would you rather live?

It doesn't have much to do with that, just like neither has much to do with homicide rates. They're just all factors that influence where, for example, one might want to live, and, yeah, GDP per capita is about as objective as it gets.

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Re: Level of cultural development

Postby linguoboy » 2013-02-21, 4:02

johnklepac wrote:GDP per capita is about as objective as it gets.

Funny, then that no one seems to agree on what it was in 2011. The figures in these lists are pretty consistent for the USA (somewhere in the range of 47,882-48,442), yet its rank fluctuates from #14 (between Finland and Ireland) to #19 (between San Marino and Ireland, with Finland at #15).
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Re: Level of cultural development

Postby johnklepac » 2013-02-21, 15:32

linguoboy wrote:
johnklepac wrote:GDP per capita is about as objective as it gets.

Funny, then that no one seems to agree on what it was in 2011. The figures in these lists are pretty consistent for the USA (somewhere in the range of 47,882-48,442), yet its rank fluctuates from #14 (between Finland and Ireland) to #19 (between San Marino and Ireland, with Finland at #15).

I'm not saying it's perfect, but there aren't many if any factors used to rank cultural development that are more objective, which is what signals to me that the whole concept isn't.

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Re: Level of cultural development

Postby DissidentRage » 2013-02-21, 16:16

GDP isn't even a good marker in economic growth and/or stability, much less an indicator of cultural development. There is no single magic bullet statistic with which to gauge cultural development as they all have flaws. If you want a fuller picture you need to look at a lot more than GDP.
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