Evolutionary Psychology Bingo Card

Evolutionary Psychology Bingo Card

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“Easterners” are not collectivist automatons who are poor at analytical reasoning.

german-vs-chinese-opinions
Figure 1. German (blue) versus Chinese (red) opinions, according to a German art exhibit. The piece was created by a German-educated Chinese woman named Yang Liu. Compare this symbolism with the term “Chinese fire drill”.

Excepted from East meets west: How the brain unites us all [HTML] [PDF] by Ed Yong (via MindHacks):

AS A SPECIES, we possess remarkably little genetic variation, yet we tend to overlook this homogeneity and focus instead on differences between groups and individuals. At its darkest, this tendency generates xenophobia and racism, but it also has a more benign manifestation – a fascination with the exotic.

Nowhere is our love affair with otherness more romanticised than in our attitudes towards the cultures of east and west. Artists and travellers have long marvelled that on opposite sides of the globe, the world’s most ancient civilisations have developed distinct forms of language, writing, art, literature, music, cuisine and fashion. As advances in communications, transport and the internet shrink the modern world, some of these distinctions are breaking down. But one difference is getting more attention than ever: the notion that easterners and westerners have distinct world views.

Psychologists have conducted a wealth of experiments that seem to support popular notions that easterners have a holistic world view, rooted in philosophical and religious traditions such as Taoism and Confucianism, while westerners tend to think more analytically, as befits their philosophical heritage of reductionism, utilitarianism and so on. However, the most recent research suggests that these popular stereotypes are far too simplistic. It is becoming apparent that we are all capable of thinking both holistically and analytically – and we are starting to understand what makes individuals flip between the two modes of thought.

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“Black or white”, “East or West” are not racially or culturally exhaustive.

Black (#000000) and white (#FFFFFF) are opposite colours, because they have opposite RGB values. As these colour names have been used as labels for racial categories, sometimes Americans make the mistake of thinking that black people and white people are opposite races, or that “black or white” is a racially inclusive term.

Although the United States’ history of slavery may be the origin of the false black-or-white racial dichotomy, the mapping of these racial labels on to colour analogues reinforces the notion that “black or white” is racially exhaustive.

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Considering intent to evaluate morality is an ancient Western tradition.

Contemporary Western intellectuals embrace secularism as ‘modern’, and they often perceive Eastern and African cultures as ‘traditional’ cultures that are steeped in ancient religious practices.

Many Westerners even describe Japan, an arguably more technologically advanced nation, as an interesting blend of the very old with the very new. A white man told me that he visited Japan to meet the parents of his Japanese wife. He said that Japan’s technology makes Canada look like a developing country. However, he insisted that Japan’s culture is very ancient in addition to being futuristic, because ancient cultural beliefs and practices are still part of contemporary Japanese culture.

I found it odd that Western culture is rarely perceived as ancient, even though so many of our beliefs and practices can be traced back to ancient traditions. It is difficult to look at Western culture directly, when we are so accustomed to looking through Western cultural frameworks.

An example of an ancient Western cultural artifact is the Christian tradition of considering intention when judging the morality of an action. This Christian concept is institutionalized in our legal systems as mens rea. For a very recent example of factoring in intent, Clay Shirky claimed that the filtering out of LGBT books from Amazon.com was only a “perceived injustice” and an “injustice that didn’t actually occur” since the delisting was done unintentionally.*

The overemphasis on intent is so pervasive that the effects of an entity’s actions is now considered less important or even unimportant. Furthermore, a culture that trivializes the importance of effect encourages people in power to prioritize image management over correcting bad behaviour. If intent is more important than action and effect, then showing that you had good intentions absolves you from your bad behaviour and your responsibility to correct your behaviour.


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* For the record, I was unaware of the #amazonfail twitterstorm until I read Shirky’s article, as I had Internet troubles during that time. Although he makes a good point about people’s tendency to rationalize their actions, because I wasn’t involved, I have no emotional investment in maintaining that an injustice did occur.

The term “moderate Muslim” is still Islamophobic.

George Lakoff is a professor of cognitive linguistics at UC Berkeley, and the author of Don’t Think of an Elephant! Know Your Values and Frame the Debate. While Lakoff’s book is generally a great instructional tool for American progressives, he is still encumbered by a Western bias, which is evident in his framing of Islam and Muslims. Lakoff’s hidden assumption is that Islam is fundamentally violent, but that Islam in moderation is tolerable and acceptable. That is, Lakoff’s prototype of Islam is that Islam is centrally violent, and his concept of a non-violent Islam is that it is atypical or non-prototypical. Moreover, Lakoff accepts a worldview in which “Islam” and “the West” are polar opposites, and that a non-violent Islam is non-violent because it falls somewhere on the continuum between “Islam” and “the West”. Within this frame, of course, “Islam” is violent and “the West” represents non-violence.

Lakoff frames terrorism as arising from cultural difference.

Lakoff is a progressive, but his understanding of “radical Islamic fundamentalists” is borrowed from American conservatives’ understanding of “Islam”. Instead of dismantling the conservative frame that characterizes Islam as inherently violent and backwards, Lakoff keeps the conservative frame and adds the disclaimer that this characterization is not representative of most Muslims. In Don’t Think of an Elephant, p. 59, Lakoff writes:

The question that keeps being asked in the media is, Why do they hate us so much?

It is important at the outset to separate moderate-to-liberal Islam from radical Islamic fundamentalists, who do not represent most Muslims.

Radical Islamic fundamentalists hate our culture. They have a worldview that is incompatible with the way that Americans—and other Westerners—live their lives.

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White people think that people of colour have more culture.

whiteculture5White liberals* in North America often say things like, “White people have no culture.” For the overwhelming majority of white liberals, to be white is to be boring. Some white people even claim that they are “jealous” of people who are not white, as if non-white people have “culture” that white people do not, due to the sole fact they have a higher concentration of melanin in their skin, eyes, or hair.

Of course, the very definition of culture necessitates that white people have culture**. Here is a definition of culture from Wikipedia:

Culture can be defined as all the ways of life including arts, beliefs and institutions of a population that are passed down from generation to generation. Culture has been called “the way of life for an entire society.” As such, it includes codes of manners, dress, language, religion, rituals, games, norms of behavior such as law and morality, and systems of belief as well as the art.

Cultural anthropologists most commonly use the term “culture” to refer to the universal human capacity and activities to classify, codify and communicate their experiences materially and symbolically.

Obviously, white people have culture. What is less obvious is why most white liberals think that they have no culture, and why most white liberals think that anybody who is non-white has culture that white people do not, even if these non-white people are living in the same society as the whites.

Most white liberals think that they have no culture, because most white people’s subconscious and vernacular definition of “culture” is what they consider foreign culture. Because most white people believe that non-white people are foreign, they assume that non-white people must therefore have foreign culture, which they refer to as just “culture”.

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Blondes are sexier, because all children are white?

Two sociologists argue that blonde women are inherently more attractive than non-blonde women, because blonde hair is a biological marker of youth. The book is called Why Beautiful People Have More Daughters by Alan S. Miller and Satoshi Kanazawa, and an excerpt was featured in a Psychology Today article in 2007. Here is part of the excerpt:

Blond hair is unique in that it changes dramatically with age. Typically, young girls with light blond hair become women with brown hair. Thus, men who prefer to mate with blond women are unconsciously attempting to mate with younger (and hence, on average, healthier and more fecund) women.

Light-coloured hair among children is a characteristic of Europeans, and is not universal. Babies of Asian and African descent almost always have black hair.

It is no coincidence that blond hair evolved in Scandinavia and northern Europe, probably as an alternative means for women to advertise their youth, as their bodies were concealed under heavy clothing.

Since light-coloured hair among youth is not universal among humans, the argument that heterosexual male humans are attracted to blondes because of genetics is absurd. Have Asian and African men evolved to prefer blondes as well? How would this occur, if blond hair was a rather late mutation in human evolution, confined to Northern Europe? Light-coloured hair in non-Caucasian Asian and African populations before contact with Northern European genes were markers of albinism.

However, perhaps the authors were not making this argument, and were merely arguing that contemporary males find blonde females more attractive because blonde hair is still correlated with youth, among Caucasians. That is, perhaps contemporary heterosexual males see or meet a large sample of Caucasians throughout their lives, and unconsciously extrapolate the correlation between blonde hair and youth. Perhaps the blonde-youth correlation is a result of exposure to Caucasians, rather than hard-wired. This interpretation is more reasonable, given that the authors were trained in sociology rather than biology.

Unfortunately, the full title of the book is Why Beautiful People Have More Daughters: From Dating, Shopping, and Praying to Going to War and Becoming a Billionaire– Two Evolutionary Psychologists Explain Why We Do What We Do and is an evolutionary psychology book.