For the trivially-minded?

2 October 2006

This old column on The Atlantic’s website has several good items including:

Which UN nation’s diplomats get the most parking tickets, and what policies and cultures those infractions correlate with.

Whether the political and economic success of former colonies have a relationship to how straight (colonially imposed) or squiggly (topographically or culturally derived) the borders of that country borders are.

I tried reading an anthology of essays on the phenomenon of Cargo Cults a while ago. It didn’t go that well, for a couple of reasons. One was that I think several of the articles in the book were written by the kind of people targeted by Alan Sokal and Jean Bricmont. Secondly, several of the authors and the editor of the anthology, seemed to believe that they, the researchers (and by extension we, the readers) are not far enough ‘outside’ the culture under scrutiny to really be able to analyze it. While I’m not sure where that leaves us in terms of sounding the for the bottom on the ocean of relativity, I agree that the kinds of things usually described as ‘cargo cultish,’ occur in enough cultures to render attempts to label them nearly impossible.

All of which is to say that I think the above-mentioned two studies approach the same kind of unintentional introspection. Rather than the avowed topics, we’re studying what we think about ourselves. Deep, huh?

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