Saturday, June 16, 2012


Compound interest stopped being the most powerful force in the universe way before I heard that Albert Einstein may have never said it was. I have heard about the power of exponentials from other credible people, and I heard that in person. But is exponential growth a force in the usual sense of driving action? Or is growth a force only to the extent that it pushes and displaces things around it?

A powerful force must lie behind actions that otherwise would not occur, or that otherwise would be unexplainable. Specifically human actions that are unexplainable either under the opposing models of Homo Economicus or Homo Reciprocans. 

These actions pop up everywhere, from people running in front of a dozen bulls in Pamplona every year, to entire countries placing a Queen and her family in Buckingham Palace to lead a life of idle ceremony for 60 years and then make a big fuss to thank her for her service. What service? Privilege is no service.

Mysteriously unexplainable are familial episodes of honor killings. Make one to reconsider if all parents really want the same for their children, and if we are all really driven by the same forces.

Partially unexplainable are the self sacrifices of the Fukushima nuclear plant workers deliberately taking radiation. One may argue they fall under the same self-sacrifice umbrella of suicide bombings in war, a la kamikaze or their well known Middle Eastern variants. But the latter ones are hardly explainable, because when a young person sacrifices their entire descent bloodline disappears, by not ever happening. Why is then the suicide bomber profile a really young person as opposed to an 80 year old bomber whose bloodline is already spoken for?

The invisible force behind all these is Culture, making it more powerful than compound interest. Anthropology early on defined culture as some sort of cultivation of the mind, but the URL in your browser shows that this is my blog so I get to pick the definition, one with some McGrew elements. Patterns of behavior that are consistent across performers in social units, patterns that endure across generations. 

Or Culture simply as a set of actions we take automatically, without questioning, out of group tradition.

Right or wrong, postulating Culture as "the force" is a more benign view than the alternate mantra of the only common thread in the world being absurdity.

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