Why Numbers Matter

    Numbers are drawn symbols, or figures, that represent something else. The sign 2 is not just a slinky line; it is a collectively recognized and agreed upon symbol for two of something. Throughout history, that representation has made life a lot easier for transactions among people — it’s a lot easier if I write “I owe you 2 cows” than bringing the cows physically into the conversation and parading them around and forcing you to see that there are indeed 2 cows. Numbers are also the symbols used in counting, a numerical…

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The Most Selfish Culture on Earth-Or Maybe Not

Once Considered Unkind, the Ik Turn out to Be Nice When anthropologist Colin Turnbull lived among the Ik people of Uganda between 1964 and 1967, he found a bleak, loveless, unkind society where everyone was only out for themselves. Turnbull wrote about his experience in the best-selling 1972 book The Mountain People, an ethnographic follow up to his highly acclaimed The Forest People about the cooperative and socially entwined Mbuti pygmies of the Republic of Congo. The contrast between the two cultures couldn’t have been more shocking. The Ik were held up as evidence that…

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The Real Reason We Need Each Other

Our Very Identities Rely on Interpersonal Interaction  The rush to open the economy up again, even amid rising Covid-19 contagion, has been fueled, in part, by cries that humans are social animals and they need to be with each other. We assume that as a social species — as most primates are — that time around others is a more “natural” state than being alone, and therefore essential. But no one seems to know exactly why humans have this driving need to be in each other’s company. The idea that just being part of a…

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We Desperately Need Culture Brokers to Fix This Country but Where Are They? Where Are the Anthropologists?

Where is Margaret Mead When We Need Her?  We are in the midst of any number of internal culture wars within the United States, and these conflicts are destroying us as a nation. And yet, we have always been a culture of cultures. Since our founding, immigrants have contributed various perspectives and experiences, ethnicities have brought a panoply of beliefs and styles, distinct levels of socioeconomic status and educational experiences also separate people into other kinds of groups with various views. These differences used to be the gloriously complex fabric that made up…

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