What is a thing? I guess it is a collection of atoms, molecules and space organised in a particular way. However, with perception there is usually a physical object and a mental representation of the object. How is it that we can group certain objects into the same conceptual categories? For instance, how is it that we distinguish between an orange and a mandarine, between red and pink, between good and bad? The accuracy with which we perceive an object and the decisions which we make in order to determine its nature are what I'm questioning.
I've been turning this question over in my mind for a while now. Specifically, I've been trying to apply it to the concept of culture or society. Now that I'm seeing some new places I'm seeing more of the diffences and similarities which connect and divide different social groups, both within and between countries. One of the experiences which has really opened my eyes recently has been visiting some of the villages of ethnic minorities in the north of Vietnam. These groups are also known as hill-tribes.
They operate on a system which has been used for centuries, living in small groups, cultivating the land and gathering together occasionally to share the products of their labours - rice, fruit, clothes, some modern items such as shoes and umbrellas transported from the city. I honestly felt like I'd been sucked into to cover story of a National Geographic magazine - just like the computer dude in the movie "Tron."
I was tempted in the preceeding paragraph to say that the existence of these people operates on a system completely unlike anything I have ever seen before, which wouldn't have been true. What I'm thinking about this social system now is that it's separated from the modern, global economy only by scale. If each of the people in the market place where a counrty then it could be ASEAN or the EEC meeting in the local econmic community rather than a group of farmers and tailors working in the local market place - the global village.
I'm really impressed by the resourcefulness of the people I've met here, too. So many fifteen year old girls are making a living selling bananas from handwoven baskets hanging from their shoulders on bamboo poles. I watched a guy cut a gasket for a bus engine out of a piece of cardboard the other day. In a larger city or community skills often seem to be distributed into specific areas, such as companies or government departments, but in a society of reduced scale the sames tasks seem to fall of one person or small group of people.
There may be some advantages to this kind of system. I remember studying a series of animal experiments in university. The experiments related to mice, who in nature usally live in groups which rarely surpass a certain size. The experimeter increased the size of the group beyond the natural size and discovered that the social order began to change and occasionally deteriorate. The same kind of thing may be happening in large cities today. While I don't have hard evidence to support the hypothesis I am about to propose, I'm sure it does exist and that common sense will confirm its validity: there is less crime in small communities. Perhaps big cities breed anonymity or small towns foster community but I have met some fairly clear examples of this behaviour in the last few months. True, I've met some exceptions, but hey, we're operating in a paradigm which is the domain of the social sciences where the phrase, "Don't make exceptions because exceptions disprove the rule," holds no jurisdiction.
People have written about the phenomenon of subcultures before as a kind of tribalism - youth subcutures, legal communities, music appreciation societies, armies, parent and citizen groups. These microcosms seem to fracture into fractal replications of the mother macrocosm of mainstream society with breathtaking beauty. I just hope they are always free to blossom into great variety and that the rapid homogenisation which parts of the world are experiencing doesn't negatively effect the magnificent cultural diversity with which we have been blessed.
Actually, while we're on the subject of the global village, the following text I picked up floating around the internet may be interesting:
If Earth's population was shrunk into a village of just 100 people -- with all the
human ratios existing in the world still remaining -- what would this tiny, diverse
village look like? That's exactly what Phillip M. Harter, a medical doctor
at the Stanford University School of Medicine, attempted to figure out. This is
what he found...
57 would be Asian
52 would be female
70 would be non-Christian
89 would be heterosexual
6 people would possess 59 percent of the entire world's wealth, and all