Tuesday, 23 December 2014

The most influential languages - (New) chart

Last week César Hidalgo's team in MIT released a new pretty cool study showing relationship among languages. For those who don't know who is César Hidalgo, he is a physicist specialized in Social Network Analysis (SNA). So why a physicist is studying languages? Basically because he does data analysis. That methodology isn't exclusive of physics, but also social science (economics, sociology, psychology, anthropology, geography), chemistry, biology, etc. It is a pretty cool field that I'm already writing a article about it, soon.

Going back to linguistics, what is this study awesome?. Well, they've collected data from three different sources: multilanguage articles in wikipedia, multilingual users in tweeter and books translations. With that, they've built this chart or map of influences and they got what follows:

In this map every arrow shows information translated from a language to another. The arrow thickness means amount of flow. Please notice that some connections are just one-way, while there are languages that aren't connected directly. There is when some languages as english, french, russian or spanish act as hubs. Then sometimes to pass info between two peripheral languages, the info must jump through several languages (with some info losses in the process). In that way those languages become very influential, getting faster info, but also become "bridges", connecting other languages.

While it is true that we could calculate the exact number of influence that every language has, is enough just have a look to the map to figure it out.

Any interesting conclusion? Many. First, if we compare influence against GDP of native speakers, there is no relationship. Second if we do the same against number of native speakers, the same, not a clue. Such influence isn't related to quantity. Then, such hypothesis about chinese will be the new english as frank language, well, not yet and not soon. Chinese - at least for internet data (which is the main communication system these days)- is still too peripheric.

Hungry for more conclusions?, serve yourself - it is an interactive chart!-  http://language.media.mit.edu/visualizations/books



Friday, 21 November 2014

How hack the world: free yourself and travel!

In a previous article I said how much culture helps us to understand the world through pre-built ideas. But I said also all the problems that means, as hold our opinion on prejudices. Yes, sometimes the culture gets in the way. Then we have to question it, which is good, because that makes culture more dynamic.

Personally, my interest for cultural diversity had taken me to many places. It is which makes me understand how cultural models give us sense, but also limit us. Starting with me, I had to broken many "rules" and assumptions of my own culture just to travel (as is expensive, dangerous, unsafe, you need to speak many languages, you will be alone, what about your career, etc). But once I did it, I realize that is a constant exercise to question and test what you know about life. I also realize I wasn't the only one walking that route. There was a whole culture of people out there doing the same. They are the hackers, and no, you haven't to be a computer scientist to be one.

I had to use every trick to save some money!. Finantial distric Singapore.

How to go around the world and forget about money.

The first thing I though, -as middle-class latin-american I am (things have to be said, to travel around the world being from a developing country is much harder than do it from a developed one, but not impossible if you really want it)- was that is a dream, if not impossible, at least very expensive and then I stopped dreaming. And that is what the most of people does. Assume that it will be expensive and postpone it until they get enough money - if they get it - or just shut off their heads and stop to think about it. We are probably used to assume that awesome things are expensive, but...Have you ever done the homework and gotten an idea of how much could cost? It is time to start to use our heads and let the money takes a step outside. Don't use it as excuse to NOT to do the things you want.

Starbucks around the world: I used them for power, wifi, toilet and air conditioning for free. I actually never  bought a coffee.
If we think about it, we use money to avoid to get involved with people. As my fellow said here, the economic issue is an human issue. So, money works as a relation exchanger, but we are able to have those relationships directly, if you know where to look.

Internet is very useful for such a things. Social networks aren't just places where you upload pics of you getting drunk on parties or actually traveling. Also, it is plenty of travelers communities, where you can get a lot of info about how to travel nice and cheap (safe and sound if you are concern). It is also a fare trade system for rides and local accommodation. Sites as couchsurfing and share-your-ride, can get you a place to sleep, a ride, a local guide and probably a new friend.

Traveler's communities are very important. I've known mates traveling months thought many countries with a ridiculous budget. There's even some who are trying to beat their own record (as 3 months in Asia with just 100 USD). The trick is use your head and daring. You won't loose nothing trying. Definitely, you'll earn something moving you out of your comfort zone.

How to hack the time: Workers and entrepreuners

It isn't just for travelers (Did you pay for the all-inclusive package, safe and scheduled?, sorry but you are a plane tourist), is for everyone who is able to question assumptions (in fact, when you are a foreigner, you are often more likely to question systems, because you lack of pre-build concepts that locals have, take advantage of that feeling) It could be done -and is done- by both employees and employers.

May be you have the money to travel, but you lack time. Tim Ferry's in his famous book "4 Hours Work Week" propose us some fun exercises to free our mind and time, (or just be more productive if you wish) whatever you are a worker or an entrepreneur (creative entrepreneurs that want to improve the world, be very welcome. While you exploitative employers, get out of here!).

According Tim, the key is think different and do the DEAL (Define, Eliminate, Automate, Liberate) Most people just don't dream their life, they don't know what exactly they want. They don't define and just follow some given cultural models, given life styles. His invitation is to design and define our own life style, taking immediate action, no excuses are allowed. You must to think how to reach your goals in life. Not just thinking in money measures, but also how to get it when is need it. More money doesn't mean work harder. Be hard worker is overrated, the important thing is be productive, which is do the same in less time. Time is the currency to pay for your dreams. With enough time we set us free to enjoy life as we want to. BUT! only if we have defined our dreams first. Otherwise we'll just waste your time on unnecessary things.

That is why is important to eliminate. Stop to doing unproductive and inefficient things. Things that only get us away from our dreams. In this case the key is analyze which things bring us the least of benefits and the most of our problems and time wasting. Then, just cut it off!. It isn't a easy thing to do, it's against our conservative and cumulative instincts. We even feel attached with the things and customs that we have even if they aren't good for us. To be more efficient with our time we must do the important in life, such things we avoid to do maybe because we are afraid to fail. So we procrastinate and get busy with unimportant things. A good idea could be ask for professional help or a friend who knows more about something you want to do. Often you get things done much more cheaper and better. Automatization is about that. Don't waste you life, is just one. Get things done! Specialize in that you are good.

Finally, set you free!, not just mentally, but physically as well. Big game, dream global. Big goals are often easier than do it mediocre, because two reasons: 1) mediocre goals with mediocre rewards often means mediocre effort, while awesome goals and amazing reward.... you know what I mean. 2) There is too much competence for possible goals, go for the impossible. Be global, take advantage of hour differences, money exchange rates, system differences, twist the systems. For instance, there was some entrepreneurs who always complain about how hard is start and operate a business in Latin America because the bureaucracy, and the easy that is for foreign companies operate in their countries because policies to attract foreign investment. Then, the decide to twist the world system, they started their company in foreign countries with less bureaucracy and cost and started to operate that "foreign company" in their own country taking advantage of those policies. They started to defeat an unfair system.

Another example is Pete, a canadian who get retired at his 30's. He did it with a financial home total plan. His secret was have a simple life, learning to enjoy simple things in life. He successfully avoided to fall into the illusion of advertising world and resisting the pressure of a consumerist society, but after all, enjoying life. He turn  that life into a saving plan with goals (because saving without goals of how to spend that money is be stingy), now he travel the world very relaxed (here his blog). There are many other examples of people that question their assumptions and culture (as consumerism).

That's right, we cannot live without culture, but it doesn't mean we aren't able to fix it or change it to make it more dynamic. That is what hacker culture is about. As former minister of culture of Brazil- and hacker- Gilberto Gil has said: "hackers create, innovate, solve problems and practice the organization of mutual and voluntary help".

I was 24 when I started my trip around the world. With 26 I came back home and I closed the circle. Now, with the same 26 I think it was a hug to the world to try to measure it, to get to know if all those stories, that I've heard, were true. I think I should do it again, several times! I still wishing that uncomfortable feeling when you do new thing for first time, sweaty hands and laughing so hard when I made a mistake. Get out of comfort zone, make life worth be living. Are you ready for that? Do you think hacker culture is for you?

Viajeros Hacker teaser 1 William Wallace from Pippo Ramos on Vimeo.

PD: If you are interested to know how I did to travel for cheap and know more hacker culture, keep following the blog, I hope soon I'll be able to lunch the documentary about all those hacker-travelers I meet just to show you how to be one.


Tim Ferrys, 2009, 4 Hours Work Week

Tuesday, 30 September 2014

When inequality is the problem

There is a large argument about inequality these days. When some say that it doesn't matter, total wealth is the important, other dudes, as Joseph Stiglitz or Paul Krugman (both Nobel laureates), say that matters and is a fact that the gap between rich and poor is growing. Many people have been experienced it, as movements as Occupy Wall Street, Indignados and other demonstrations have shown us. But what is the deal about it? Here two deep insights into the issue.

Inequality in poverty: Impeding Development.

In the book Why Nations Fail, the economist Daron Acemoglu and the political scientist, James Robinson, try to answer the question why some countries are wealthy while others are stuck in poverty. Their answer lays on something we have talked before, and could be considered part of culture: Institutions.

Although in the first place they reject plain explanations about culture, they thought about it like "ideological issues", as a work ethic or wealth ambition. They noticed that places with same culture actually have different income, as Nogales town in the US-Mexico border, a "mexican culture" town splitted in two, with one side rich (US) and another side poor (Mexico). Or Korea, a country splitted in two, one very rich (south) and other very poor (north), but with same cultural basis. So they relay their explanations in something more specific: political institutions (+economic institutions). To put it simple, there are two kinds: extractives (poor countries) and inclusives (rich ones).

For these two famous researchers (the gossips say that Acemoglu will be Nobel Prize soon), extractive institutions are those that have typically a group called "elite" that extract wealth and resources from the rest of the society. Thus, the rest of the society loses all incentives to be more productive, because more effort doesn't mean enhance of profit for them, but for the elite. Besides this elite will do everything possible to preserve their privilege as discourage any innovation that can produce a dynamic society (fear of creative destruction). It also will destroy in advance any opposition or competition to their power.

Sadly, oppressed people will continually try to free themselves despite elite efforts, turning the system in very unstable society. And if one group achieve overthrow the elite, it is likely that they fall into "the iron law of oligarchy", and the victorious group become the new elite, holding privileges and keeping extractive institutions with the rest. Power tends to corrupt, isn't it?

Forced work fields of Khmer Rouge in Cambodia. While Khmer was looking for terminate with elite power and colonialism in Cambodia. Once in the power, they emphasized extractive institutions, they even killed 2 millions of people. Others extractive institution examples are feudal servilism, slavery and most common, oligarchies of crony capitalism.

However if such revolution is widespread and inclusive, there is a chance to create institutions to put a limit on political power of new rulers (as, but not necessarily, division of power, effective power alternation, voting system) and open opportunities to everyone can influence policy, creating changes and dynamism. Inclusive institutions are created and that allows improvements and innovation. The benefit is more likely to be distributed by individual o collective effort, so there is incentive to improve productivity, and talents of people will be better distributed, leveraging different part of the whole society. Then, there is less institutional inequality and no distortion on a system that could be caused by a too powerful elite.

When queen Elizabeth I of England was introduced to the first spinning machine design, she was astonished, but she rejected to give a patent to their inventor. She said that machine does the job of 10 workers and 10 workers without a job do revolts. Thus, she, as a queen, should avoid riots, in order to maintain the order and her head over her shoulders. Everything changes after Glorious revolution in 1688, when parliament (with widespread interest representation) granted patents to many invents which led to industrial revolution.

The book also point out that such political institution allows a more fair scenario and economy growth, destroying inefficient economies and creating some new and better (creative destruction). Of course there should be a political guarantees to maintain economic inclusive institution, like markets, as such. For instance, an accessible justice system in which the less powerful were in the same stance than the most. By all means, it is possible that the economic system tends to segregation, specially if there is no political guarantees, specially if inclusive economic institutions aren't backed by inclusive political institutions.

This could be the case for China and Singapore, in which inclusive economic institutions are under extractive political system. Then, economic growth won't last. Repeating rapid economic growth under extractive institution (as it happened with URSS in the '50, '60 and '70s), but unsustainable in time. Even under inclusive political institutions there are other threats, as it happened with the trust crisis in 1890 and financial crisis in 2008 in US, while markets created high concentration of wealth (inequality), making american democracy tremble.

Unfortunately, when some countries became rich because of their new inclusive institutions, they have increased global inequality. Because their powerful influence among the rest, it led to colonialism. It is a kind of inequality that has left rich countries as extractors of natural resources of the rest, preventing the development of their own inclusive institutions, supporting local elites to keep the world status quo.

Inequality in wealth: Impeding Well-being.

The epidemiologist Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett, in the book "The Spirit Level: Why Greater Equality Makes Societies Stronger", give us some reasons to worry about inequality.

If we take some data of economic income per person and compare it with data about well-being (mainly health, more familiar issue for the authors) will see there is a relation between income and well-being. That is, the higher the income per person in a country, better welfare. However, this relation is completely blurred over $ 20,000 per capita, when add to more money does not ensure any improvement.

However, the researchers took the data of the rich countries and compare with inequality of income rather than plain income. Its result is quite impressive. Among high income countries, the well-being increase when inequality decrease.

The authors explain some effects of inequality in well-being through permanent stress (cortisol levels). As they say, inequality generate stress. People is more worry about others opinion, is more insecure and depressed. They develop some feelings of superiority and inferiority, which impacts on health and also on well-being, not just the poorer, but also with the rich. Have you ever felt the pressure of social inequality? the anguish of constant comparison?


Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett, 2009 ,The Spirit Level: Why Greater Equality Makes Societies Stronger.
Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson, 2012, Why nations fail.

Tuesday, 12 August 2014

8 rules to avoid environmental disaster

An interesting point of view to understand culture is see it like social arrangements that allow us survive, adapt and live in a natural or social world. These sets are above of individuals, are contracts, set of rules, values, customs, limits that we enforce to ourself - consciously or not- to achieve some goals. Are institutions.

Sorry folks, but institutions aren't buildings. Instead of that, are a set of rules.

For example, marriage institution is a set of rules that limit sexual relationships, heritage, alliances between families or groups. It installs a kind of link and sets rules, that helps to avoid conflicts about reproduction right, and keeps some values (some societies is about love, in other childs, or family, status, whealt, etc).

There are political institutions, as democratic vote, or economic ones, as markets. All of them regulate our actions. How we behave, which strategies are available to reach our goals. There were people that thought there are as many institutions as social needs. While others thought that institutions were imposed and because of historical reasons... But How is this related to environment?  

The tragedy of the commons

In 1968, Garrette Hardin published in Science magazine an hypotetical situation: A common grassland (resource), which is used by several farmers to feed their animals. If those shepherds act from an individualistic and rational point of view to maximize their benefit, they will try to put on grassland as many animals as they can. If everybody act like that, soon the common resource will be plenty of animals and they will eat it all, leading to the dead of all animals. It will be different if the resource wasn't common, but divided among shepherds. Then, they will try to avoid over-exploitation, knowing beforehand that no one will use the resources they don't use.

This has been used as an argument to support pro-private-property-rights positions. But the same article said that is just one possible action and it is hard to take in major commons as air (and pollution) and oceans, that couldn't be divided. If we still pushing those commons the tragedy will become innevitable.

But commons are hypotetical, What occurs in real life?

The commons survive.

Some anthropologists researches have shown us that most of the communities with common resources have
several strategies to avoid its overexploitation. They use tabus that forbid fishing or rules that say when to move cattle to other lands to avoid overconsumption. However, many communities transform those rules when they start some commerce and market relationships. Markets encourage intensive exploitation of resources to exchange.
Palau (Micronesia), fishermen have strong norms to limit fishing
The nomad shedherds Bassin (Southern Iran) have rules and rutes very well stablished in order to take care of glasslands

However, in 1990, E. Ostrom (political scientist and Nobel Prize) compiled and compared many cases were communities were successful conserving their common resources. She described a set of institutions that help them make it. Those institutions were specifics rules that community impose and reproduce in next generations:
  1. Clearly defined boundaries (effective exclusion of external un-entitled parties);
  2. Rules regarding the appropriation and provision of common resources that are adapted to local conditions;
  3. Collective-choice arrangements that allow most resource appropriators to participate in the decision-making process;
  4. Effective monitoring by monitors who are part of or accountable to the appropriators;
  5. A scale of graduated sanctions for resource appropriators who violate community rules;
  6. Mechanisms of conflict resolution that are cheap and of easy access;
  7. Self-determination of the community recognized by higher-level authorities; and
  8. In the case of larger common-pool resources, organization in the form of multiple layers of nested enterprises, with small local CPRs at the base level.

Commons become global

One kind of global institution created to stop global warming and protect our major common -our planet- is Kyoto protocol for climate change. It is an agreement in which every country commit to reduce their emission greenhouses gases. Its aim was reduce global emission on 5%. If the countries couldn't achieve their goals, they will be fined.

However, as Ostrom would say, there is no point if the protocol is not ratified by every country. Sadly USA didn't, despite to be the major greenhouse gases producer. And Canada, seeing they wouldn't achieve their goals for 2012, quit. And the tragedy becomes more real.


G. Hardin "Thagedy of the commons", Science, 1968
R. E. Johannes "Words of lagoon: Fishing and marine lore in Palau distric of Micronesia", 1981
E. Ostrom "Governing the Commons: The Evolution of Institutions for Collective Action", 1990
Ember y Ember: Sistemas económicos: ¿Lleva la propiedad comunal al desastre económico?, 2010

Sunday, 15 June 2014

9 types of personalities according their culture

To be honest with ourselves we have to recognize this: We love short list articles that simplify everything. And we love much more if is about people. That is the main reason why internet has plenty of articles that are tilted like this one. But sorry folks, this article doesn't have a list, but something much more interesting...Why we love lists about "types of people" and how culture helps us to do that.

Now, If you really really really want to classify people by culture, go ahead, there are plenty of consultant services that sells lies such services, following the scientific method of flipping a coin, and use pre-judgements as theory. Otherwise, be smart and keep reading.

How we understand our world

One of the main functions of culture is to bring us explanations of how the world works. Culture (through socialization) brings us the main frame to understand everything that surrounds us. It is in that way because our brains can't handle the complexity of our world (such theories about we just use 10% of our brains- are false, we use it all, well, not everybody), so culture helps us. Otherwise we should re-invent everything. That is neither clever nor possible. Could you do it?

Just imagine that you are the only survivor of your civilization. Could you bring it back with your actual knowledge? We live surrounded by many things that we don't know where they come from neither how they were made. As nobody is specialist in everything, culture helps to fill the gaps.

Ofcourse that means some difficulties as well. As culture helps us to not think everything again, giving us some pre-constructed scheme, there is a trap of not thinking at all. Pre-built concepts, better known as prejudice, could makes our life hard as rock. Not just limiting our knowledge, but suffering by other's limited knowledge.

Luckily, a dynamic culture could avoid such issues (as scientific culture does), changing those concepts to adapt better to reality, whether is social or material.

Anyway, we simplify everything in order to put it inside our mind. Ofcourse, this applies for people too.

Azimuthal equidistante: Commonly see in UN's flag
Not scientific reasons to put north on top, but political: Australia and New Zealands version, on top and in the middle.

World maps: Literally culture brings us schemes of the world. We are probably used to Mercator world map projection, but there are many. Some are much more accurate to how real world looks like. So, Mercator is one among other cultural possibilities.

Reducing social complexity

With our actual world population (7 billion), humans cannot get to meet eachother very well. Nevertheless our system works (bad, good, but works) and we trust and live with many strangers. There is too much people to be processed by our brains, so culture helps us again, putting them into categories. And sometimes we help to improve them.

For example, some societies tend to classify people by ancestry, linage, totem or family name. That allow us to build a "mental map" to know who is who. It is certainly a pretty common system. Ancient Rome used to divide their populations in 12 tribes to identify their citizens, while in actual european (and others) aristocracy, family name is an important social classificator.

In larger societies, with more complexity, people use several categories as interest groups (religion, political parties, sport teams, etc), place (neighborhood, city, country), skin color, social class. According to that, isn't weird to find a very strict classification social system in India. With huge amount of people, with several languages, ethnics, religions, "caste system" brings certain kind of traversal order to deal with such a complexity.

Horoscope is an old people classification system by day of birth. But, Can we be reduced to just 12 kind of personalities?

It is likely that we try to make our own complexity reduction of people, trying to anticipate their behavior, get to know if someone is trustworthy. Ofcourse we put different levels of stringency and some of those categories could led to prejudice. But we hold them because allow us to deal with complexity and we'd feel disarmed and frightened without such "mental map".

So isn't strange that some sciences, as psychology, tried to sort "types of personality", and magazines and internet has plenty of "personality test" to get to know who you are. Or try to predict if we will like someone by the music they hear. But, Is it really possible classify human complexity into a couple of categories?

It looks like that humankind is much more complex, but we keep trying to reduce it to make it fit into our minds. So, What lesson we take of all of these? Besides that we love to sort people out. We have to keep in mind that when we put the world into categories, we are also doing it with ourselves. We put limits to our actions, trying or pretending to don't look like the others. I think that is enough with categories that others put on us to add some more. If we are going to use them (because are useful) is good not to be too strict, because "Whatever measure you deal out to others will be dealt back to you".

Some sources:
R. Rappaport, 1994, Spatial organization
E. Durhkeim and M. Mauss, 1902, Primitive Classification

Saturday, 24 May 2014

How to survive in large crowds: Cultural techniques.

It is likely that you live surrounded by thousands of people in a big city, in a country of millions of people. And it is likely as well that you feel used to it, despite just meet a few. Have you ever noticed all they with you share your life whom you don't know?  They that you cross in the streets, on the bus, or they whom you buy. Some of them that you trust despite you don't even know their names as police officers (whom you trust your safety), banks cashiers (whom you trust your money) or restorant chefs (your food and health). It even seen pretty normal. But all these thinks aren't normal, were developed as "social technologies". Which are such techniques? What enables us to live in large crowds?

Models of Human organization evolution.

Let's check out a little about political evolution analysis to solve this questions. By the way, keep in mind that social evolution doesn't mean "better than" or superiority among societies, but changes across the time, new social adaptations or different complexity within a society. In the other hand, politics isn't just political parties and laws. Politics is the way that humans get organized, solve conflicts, and compete and distributed power

Adrian Bejan and Peder Zane have described evolution as a flow. They compare it with other flow models as rivers. Where flows diverge and converge according environment resistance. To left, satellital view of a river, to right full evolution chart.

There are many models that describe and combine several variables (such as knowledge, population, environment, conflict, culture, etc.) because most are synthetic and systemic. They appeal to multiple factors that reinforce each other, but giving priority to one factor or another. But Which one is the most correct? It will depend on every case. One model could be useful to explain the rise of the state in middle Andes, while another will explain segmentary tribes in High Nilo or corporations structure in USA.

To put it extremly simple we are going to use an "hypothetical group" to make these models work. Then this is a travel that will show us many options, not just one way, as a river flow to the present. So please, take a deep breath and try to forget all that things that you considered "obvious" or "normal", because we are going to places where such a things not even existed.

The hypothetical group.

Imagine a 200 people group, which is in an environment, where they get resources to survive (hunting and gathering). If they can't get enough food, they move. Then, they've had good health and nutricion (no- hygienic problems, a lot of exersice, rich diet), and don't need to work to much to survive. They distribute their products through reciprocity (favors exchange). There is neither specialization, nor bosses. Leadership is spontanious, temporary and depend on the task to be done.

But then, something changes: 1) An increase of population: several effects occur. Group's mobility decreases, getting less chances to get resources (Packing group hypothesis); there are more stomachs to feed (demographic pressure). Likewise, there is more people than we can naturally handle (Dunbar number). With too many unfamiliar faces, reciprocity doesn't work and conflict arises with people that we don't know so well. Further, scarce of resources increase competition and conflict.

2)It is time to make a decision. The group could reduce its numbers, could be divided and dispersed or the population pressure could lead to an innovation (Boserup's Theory), as looking for new food sources (Broad-spectrum theory) or agriculture development. Complementary strategies could be done to keep group cohesion: From a point of view that a group is a net of social relationships, someone - in the middle of that social network with access to many people - could articulate the group (weak ties hypothesis). Because more people is able to trust on him, he can managed it, but he must spend time on that. He becomes specialist, becomes leader/manager (Information theory). Other option is sub-divide the group into categories. Could be done by family names, linages or maybe by age groups. They'll try to reduce complexity of social reality into more simple categories. Also they'll set some norms and rules among those sub-groups. Finally they'll tied them by strong alliances (as marriages) between them.

Flowchart mixing different simplified models, the entire chart is fed back to the flow giving more complexity.

3) Dispersion is just a temporary solution if environment is restricted (as valleys among mountains or oasis on desert). Groups will rapidly found  limits to use such strategies, when they face other groups or the limits of productive areas. They'll divide them continuosly until they fulfill the habitat. Then, any group's expansion will mean reduction for another, that leads to conflict. Groups will avoid their full extintion, and losers will move to another place (competitive exclution). But if there is no more place, losers have to chose between go even further - to marginal territories and look for alternative food sources (Board-spectrum and marginal zone theory)- or submit to the other group (Environmental circunscription). In other hand, whether agriculture was developed, people is able to work more to produce a surplus (which is not possible with hunting/fishing system, where you could extinguish you food source working more hours). That surplus could be managed and redistributed by a  leader (Big man/woman), which gains prestige, that could transform into power (practice/agency theory). Or, the surplus could lead into trade among different groups, and traders become key members reaching high status that could transform into power (Communication media theory). Or agriculture may require to develop planner specialists to organize big irrigations works, and those specialist become leaders in the whole society (hidraulic theory). Or sedentarism makes the group vulnerable and a permanent defense has to be organized (external conflict). All of these specializations could lead to stratification. By itself stratification and inequality aren't stable (nobody wants to be beneath someone else) and tends to dispersion

4) In order to hold stratification or leadership some factor could suffer some feedback, like that leadership encourage surplus production and surplus strengthens leaders power. But leadership has to last enough to feedback could occurs. That could be achieved through coercive force (internal conflict) or that the whole group receives or perceives benefits from leadership (Management benefits theory), either by redistribution rol, technical knowledge, defensive, comunication management or ideology, as religion. Any kind of actions that bring legitimacy to leadership and even to the use of physical coercion. Whether this point is reached, it is possible that leadership sets some succesion mechanism, which make it more "permanent".

So far, complexity has taken many forms. The more complex societies with the biggest number of people often take shape as Chiefdoms and States. But there is much more complexity  and diversity to understand. Todays world is looking toward more politic integration, mainly because the same factors that we saw here (economics, demographics, conflict, environment, ideology, etc.).  Like many little changes that become bigger across the time, human organization evolves. Are we able to predict the future of human organization? Would you? Write your bet.


T. Lewellen , 1994, Introdución a la antropología política
D. Kurtz, 2001 Political Anthropology: Power and paradigms
Lewis and Jurmain, 2012, Understanding Humans: An Introduction to physical anthropology and archeology
B. Trigger, 2003, Understanding Early Civilizations: A Comparative Study
M. Fried, 1960. On the evolution of social stratificiation and the state
Ferraro, 2009, Cultural anthropology: An Applied Perspective.

Friday, 9 May 2014

Culture and environment: the myth of environmentalist ancestor III

As we saw on a previous article, big civilizations and populations put a lot of pressure on environment, that could lead to practice some brutal activities in order to survive, as war and cannibalism. But How some people make their life with minimum impact on environment?

The tribe and infanticide

Well, we already checked that no-impact is imposible, even for our ancestors with limited technology. So, some people decide to keep population control to minimize their impact and get some kind of "ecological balance", as actual hunter-gathers do. By the way, is likely to belief that actual hunter-gathering tribes live like stone age times, but isn't true. Actual tribes live very often in marginal landscapes (as desert and jungles) with few resources basicly because they were running away from "modern civilizations" or "colonialists" looking for enslave them. In such a context "ecological balance" should be sharp.

Their strategy is keep population below environment feed capacity. Among Bushmen, Richard Lee has documented their strategies to keep their numbers low, added to other physiological effects resumed by M. Cohen. Their strategies are:
  • Long breastfeeding period that prolongs prolactin secretion on mothers to delay ovulation (18 months up to 48).
  • Abort by chemical o mechanics means (include drinking toxic beverages or beating belly)
  • Mother's poor nutrition (lack of fat delays menarche and decrease fertility)
  • Increase physical effort, as long walk to gather (increase prolactine production)
  • Coitus control
  • Infanticide.

Infanticide cover a wide range. From direct murder to simply negligence. The baby could be strangled, drowned, hit against a rock or abandoned outside. More often, the child will die for a mother's negligence. Maintain a demographic balance has a high cost.

Buschmen family: They are good parents but some sacrifice has to be done.

All these cases (Maori impact, Aztecs cannibalism and war and Bushmen infanticide) lead us to think about that myth of ancient people living with total harmony with their environment is an idealized and romantic situation, and false. But regardless of what we do, either in small groups or agricultural or industrial civilizations, all of us we have impact and must live thereby. Don't think that is going to relieve you from responsability, instead is realize of our impacts on environment. The sacrifices that had be done, we hope neither as the aztecs nor bushmen, but a change in our life style.

Furthermore, Ancient cultures has to be valued by itself (remembering  they faced similar problems as we do) and not for ethnocentric ideas that we put on them. Let's learn from they.


Cohen M.K. 1994. Demographics and human expansion.
Harris M. 1986 Cannibals and kings.


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