Category Archives: Culture

Designer Vaginas

In the previous post I linked to articles that discuss the practice of female genital mutilation/cutting.  It is worth pointing out that this practice is not unique to non-western countries.  As this article indicates “designer vaginas” are increasingly popular in America and England.

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Edward Said on Clash of Civilizations

Can a Chimp be Raised to be Like a Human?

Here is very interesting podcast on Lucy, a chimp who was raised as a human.  Make sure to listen to until the end to catch the people in Des Moines, Iowa who claim to speak English to bonobos.

Human Culture and Evolution

Natural selection is driven by culture according to this article in the NY Times:

But other genes seem to have been favored because of cultural changes. These include many genes involved in diet and metabolism and presumably reflect the major shift in diet that occurred in the transition from foraging to agriculture that started about 10,000 years ago.

Amylase is an enzyme in the saliva that breaks down starch. People who live in agrarian societies eat more starch and have extra copies of the amylase gene compared with people who live in societies that depend on hunting or fishing. Genetic changes that enable lactose tolerance have been detected not just in Europeans but also in three African pastoral societies. In each of the four cases, a different mutation is involved, but all have the same result — that of preventing the lactose-digesting gene from being switched off after weaning.

Many genes for taste and smell show signs of selective pressure, perhaps reflecting the change in foodstuffs as people moved from nomadic to sedentary existence. Another group under pressure is that of genes that affect the growth of bone. These could reflect the declining weight of the human skeleton that seems to have accompanied the switch to settled life, which started some 15,000 years ago.

Haiti

David Brooks’ recent Op-Ed on Haiti is receiving a lot attention for its claims about Haitian “culture.”

Haiti, like most of the world’s poorest nations, suffers from a complex web of progress-resistant cultural influences. There is the influence of the voodoo religion, which spreads the message that life is capricious and planning futile. There are high levels of social mistrust. Responsibility is often not internalized. Child-rearing practices often involve neglect in the early years and harsh retribution when kids hit 9 or 10.

Here is a nice response at Savage Minds and this article in the Times nicely details the importance of history in understanding Haitian poverty.

The appalling state of the country is a direct result of having offended a quite different celestial authority — the French. France gained the western third of the island of Hispaniola — the territory that is now Haiti — in 1697. It planted sugar and coffee, supported by an unprecedented increase in the importation of African slaves. Economically, the result was a success, but life as a slave was intolerable. Living conditions were squalid, disease was rife, and beatings and abuses were universal. The slaves’ life expectancy was 21 years. After a dramatic slave uprising that shook the western world, and 12 years of war, Haiti finally defeated Napoleon’s forces in 1804 and declared independence. But France demanded reparations: 150m francs, in gold.For Haiti, this debt did not signify the beginning of freedom, but the end of hope. Even after it was reduced to 60m francs in the 1830s, it was still far more than the war-ravaged country could afford. Haiti was the only country in which the ex-slaves themselves were expected to pay a foreign government for their liberty. By 1900, it was spending 80% of its national budget on repayments. In order to manage the original reparations, further loans were taken out — mostly from the United States, Germany and France. Instead of developing its potential, this deformed state produced a parade of nefarious leaders, most of whom gave up the insurmountable task of trying to fix the country and looted it instead. In 1947, Haiti finally paid off the original reparations, plus interest. Doing so left it destitute, corrupt, disastrously lacking in investment and politically volatile. Haiti was trapped in a downward spiral, from which it is still impossible to escape. It remains hopelessly in debt to this day.

Finally this article at Gene Expression nicely points to why Brooks’ description of voodoo is simply wrong.  For ongoing updates on Haiti check out antropologi.info.

The Culture of Dubai

This is an interesting podcast on culture in Dubai. Dubai, part of the United Arab Emirates, has gotten a lot of publicity because of its wealth and extravagant commercial projects.

Indian Business Culture

Does the United States retain the talent it recruits from other countries?  This article seems to suggest it does, as at least for some returning Indian emigrants, the workplace cultures in India are ‘inefficient’ and ‘unprofessional.’