Are Cognitive Frameworks Hard-Coded in Language Driving Humanity to Crisis?

Yves here. Readers may disagree with Jeremy Lent’s bold claim, that Western conceptual frameworks with roots in the Stone Age push humanity towards disaster. However, one key element of his argument rings true: the importance of language in framing, and therefore to a degree dictating, how we see things and navigate our environments.

For instance, behavioral scientist have repeatedly demonstrated that how a decision is phrased makes a very large difference in how people react to it; economically identical choices, stated in different manners, will elicit strikingly different uptakes. On a more mundane basis, the Japanese language requires users (at least ones who are pretty fluent) to be highly attuned to power dynamics. You cannot speak to someone in Japanese without using a form of address that stipulates their position relative to you. This is vastly more complex than European polite v. formal. For instance, one could choose a form of address that signifies that you are uncertain of the other person’s status….which if you clearly know their position, would be a diss.

By Lynn Parramore, a Senior Research Analyst at the Institute of New Economic Thinking. Originally published at the Institute for New Economic Thinking website

Under the shadow of a future darkened by climate crises, political instability, inequality, and super-human machines, how to best proceed? For some, the answer is more technology and scientific advancement; for others, better policies and political arrangements. Or some combination of these.

Not enough, warns Jeremy Lent, author of The Patterning Instinct: A Cultural History of Humanity’s Search for Meaning. First we’ll need to confront something deep in our psyches that prods us toward destruction.

To get at that something, Lent traces a “cognitive history” of the human species in a book delivering big, sweeping ideas and a discipline-hopping approach drawing from neuroscience, archaeology, linguistics, and systems theory, the study of complex living systems.

Lent argues that how we view the world arises out of language, specifically core metaphors that shape our values and culture, which in turn mold history in a reciprocal feedback loop. Cultural templates are often long lasting, but can also shift dramatically, sometimes in a generation or two. The process of cultural evolution, Lent observes, determines how well humans fare as much as the genes we inherit (there’s a feedback loop between culture and genes, too).

As Lent sees it, you and I are in the midst one of history’s great transitions — a process which could lead to conditions far less hospitable for most, or even a total collapse of global civilization. To avoid these dire fates, we can train our brains to adopt alternative metaphors that allow us to live less destructively.

So which metaphors are causing the trouble? For one, Lent faults a tendency to conceive a dualistic universe of binary categories, like mind and matter, reason and emotion, self and other. This framework, as the postmoderns observed, drives us to favor one category over the other and to build societies based on hierarchy and separation.

The pattern is not universal: Lent presents evidence that early hunter-gatherers emphasized connectivity rather than separation, a mindset that engendered a more egalitarian social structure. (Unfortunately, they also lived by a metaphor of nature as an endlessly giving parent, resulting in problems like overhunting, which illustrates that even seemingly harmless metaphors can eventually lead to catastrophe).

Lent speculates that dualistic frameworks articulated by western thinkers like Plato and Descartes fit into a broader pattern that sprouted from the legacy of prehistoric Proto-Indo-Europeans (PIE for short), thought to have been Eastern European steppe-dwellers and possibly the first to domesticate the horse. From their language (spoken 4500 BCE to 2500 BCE), all Indo-European languages are hypothesized to descend, including English, Greek, Spanish, German, Russian, Persian, and Punjabi, making it the parent tongue of nearly half the world’s population.

As nomadic horse breeders and traders, the PIEs, Lent argues, were more attuned to concepts like independence and mobility than agriculturalists who focused on metaphors of stability and relatedness. Some scholars, such as anthropologist and archaeologist Marija Gimbutas, have theorized that the PIEs promulgated their culture so successfully because they were especially aggressive warriors, using chariots to overrun sedentary communities weakened by events like climate crises. Some speculate that they carried with them a particularly stark form of patriarchy, though this is debated and has led to what others argue are simplistic notions of a male-centered military culture wiping out peaceful matriarchal communities.

On this contested ground, Lent stakes his support for the theory that PIE speakers developed core metaphors of domination, conceiving of nature, and other groups of humans, as foes to be conquered. He notes that in Indo-European languages, the concept of “might is right” is common. For example, the English words “regulate” and “correct” derive from the Indo-European root word for king, “reg.”

However their influence spread, Lent holds that the PIE’s success gave them an outsized stamp on the cognitive structure of the modern world, a mindset embedded in everything from religion to knowledge and technology. He traces a PIE-originated “Western pattern” of meaning that emerges through Greece, the rise of Christianity, the Enlightenment, and the Scientific and Industrial Revolutions.

Lent posits that the Chinese, protected from PIE invaders during their early history by the Himalayas, developed a distinct “East Asian pattern” that was less dualistic and mechanistic. Where Indo-Europeans conceived of oppositions like good and evil, evident in Zoroastrian and Judeo-Christian traditions, the Chinese came up with the notion of yin and yang, highlighting the interconnectedness of apparently opposing forces. This framework can be seen in various ways in Chinese languages, which, for example, identify the seat of consciousness as the heart-mind, binding reason and emotion together. Core metaphors center less on domination than fitting in and attending to the needs of others: the words for “to care for” and “to govern” are same. Put another way, to be right is to be responsible. He cites Neo-Confucian philosophers of the Song dynasty(960–1279 CE), who synthesized Confucian, Taoist and Buddhist ideas, as exemplars of this pattern.

Lent acknowledges certain “moonlight traditions,” such as that of Heraclitus in Greece, as bucking the PIE trend by envisioning the universe as dynamic and alive. He cites Leibniz, who was intrigued by Chinese concepts transmitted through Jesuit missionaries, as a moonlighter, as well as Leonardo da Vinci. But they were a minority. The dualistic framework focused on transcendence over matter and domination of nature had taken hold in Europe by the 12th century, creating conditions for a conceptual revolution in which Christians began to nurture scientific cognition. For Lent, the die was cast. He sees this trend eventually leading to the Scientific and Industrial Revolutions, which amplified patterns of disconnection. Split off from nature and from each other, westerners evolved with a sense of anomie and antagonism toward nature.

In Lent’s narrative, the current ecological crisis, the modern culture of consumerism, and the current global rush towards catastrophe can all be traced to metaphors first sprung on ancient PIE pastures.

The question is this: Can westerners envision a fundamental shift in our relation to others and to nature? Lent proposes the Neo-Confucian framework based on the coherence and interdependence of all things as a useful antidote for our descent into ever-steeper inequality and environmental degradation — a mindset he combines with developments in systems biology, complexity science and neuroscience which he call “liology,” after the Chinese word for the organizing principles of living things, “li.” He points to such a pattern germinating in the systems worldview launched by mathematician and meteorologist Edward Lorenz, who famously observed that a tiny change of input like the flap of a butterfly’s wings in Brazil could set off a tornado in Texas — an observation that challenges a more fixed, mechanical view of nature.

For Lent, the systems way of thinking leads to the possibility of seeing the universe as a web of meaning in which everything is intrinsically linked. In a recent exchange, he explained to me that in this sense, “the very idea of meaning emerges from the network of connectedness in life.” This is something that ordinary people can engage in by “shedding the layers of conditioning we receive from our cultural bombardment and reconnecting with our intrinsic human intuition and experience.” In his book, he points to Ming Dynasty philosopher Wang Yang-Ming’s notion that the understanding of interdependence is embedded in human nature and available to everyone, a perspective Lent describes as the “democratization of sagehood.”

Through this lens, humans approach life as participants. We move from self-interest to whole-interest.

Which brings us to the current global economic system, founded on the premise that self-interested actors produce the best results for society. That’s a metaphor we have to drop, warns Lent, if we are to keep our shared humanity, and along with the pursuit of endless material growth and the obsession with conquering nature. Ideas about “green growth” are just fantasies in this context, unless we prioritize the health of living systems. He described to me his skepticism that capitalism in its current form can be consistent with long-term human flourishing on the planet, a view outlined in his article, “We Need An Ecological Civilization Before It’s too Late.” (A similar view was recently expressed by economist Servaas Storm, who argues that deregulated financial markets are inimical to averting climate disaster).

Time for change may be running short. Lent notes that while other great transformations in history took generations to unfold, we can’t afford to wait that long. Technology, policy, and science are necessary but insufficient to solve global problems when viewed through a distorted cultural lens. He proposes a new lens informed by three core values: an emphasis on quality of life rather than material possessions and economic output; a focus on our shared humanity; and a commitment to environmental sustainability.

To the charge that this all sounds romantic, Lent offers several historical examples, such as the abolitionist movement and the environmental movement sparked by Rachel Carson with her book, Silent Spring, as cases in which a change of thinking among small groups of people had far-reaching results. He perceives a new, shared understanding of fairness and sustainability already underway, if recent surveys in which majorities of people favor less inequality and a more harmonious approach to nature are to be believed. He envisions a world in which the United Nations could take on powers to enforce responsible approaches to global commons and hold corporations accountable.

Lent notes that the patterns we inherit may strongly influence the way we think, but they aren’t determinative. With cognitively flexibility, we can shed our old patterns and propel ourselves into a new phase in which the future is up for grabs. Neuroscientists have discovered that the human brain is plastic, observes Lent, and the same is true of human culture.

In his poem “Tintern Abbey,” moonlighter William Wordsworth offers a glimpse of how such a change might feel:

And I have felt

A presence that disturbs me with joy

Of elevated thoughts; a sense sublime

Of something far more deeply interfused,

Whose dwelling is the light of setting suns,

And the round ocean and the living air,

And the blue sky, and in the mind of man;

A motion and a spirit, that impels

All thinking things, all objects of thought,

And rolls through all things.

On the eve of destruction, it surely seems worth considering.

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    1. Krystyn Walentka

      No, not Newthink, this is more tricky for people to comprehend. I would call it no-think, which is a positive and a Daoist practice.

      No-think is nondual, like before Adam and Eve bit the apple and started believing there was a difference between naked and clothed.

      Do not ask how this will help reverse climate change, because “how” depends on dualism; if I do this than that happens. And I am afraid this is the part that frustrates dualistic people the most.

      1. tomk

        Brings to mind something I wrote years ago–

        If I do this
        then that
        this this
        that that that
        this this this this
        that that that that that
        this this this this
        that that that
        this this

        1. MyLessThanPrimeBeef

          Perhaps what is about to be said is orientalism, but in Chan (or Zen), there is this well-known saying, about Chan itself:

          A special transmission outside the scriptures,
          Not founded upon words and letters.[note 2]
          By pointing directly to [one’s] mind,
          It lets one see into [one’s own true] nature and [thus] attain Buddhahood

          An eternal reminder to avoid using (or thinking with) words.

          Chan, of course, evolved from Dao & Buddhism, where it is written, that the Dao that can be worded is not the eternal Dao. And Gong-An (or Koan in Japanese) were used extensively by the ‘masters’ to free the students from such dependence on words.

          By the way, the ‘master’ would prefer we don’t address him/her as ‘master.’ Some sort of implied power or dependency there (“Your Buddha nature is already within you, master Chan-student…you who are working to become enlightened.”)

          1. Anarcissie

            If you ‘avoid thinking with words’ then you are thinking with words.

            A shift away from binary thinking — is binary thinking.

            And so on.

            1. Krystyn Walentka

              Sorry, that meta stuff only works on millennials. :)

              No think is not “not thinking”. It is not the opposite of thinking. I cannot put it in words, maybe the closest I can come is compare it to infinity. what is its’ opposite?

              1. MyLessThanPrimeBeef

                In the process of reaching a state of not thinking, for example, doing zazen, the struggle involves thinking, before reaching not-thinking (if successful).

                That is the intermediate stage.

                In Chan (or Zen), they talk about ‘using the hand, or finger, to point out the moon, symbolizing enlightenment, but once found, the hand or finger is no longer needed.’

                Words are like that pointing hand (or finger).

                And we have expended a lot of words here, in the same way words were used to say ‘the Dao that can be worded is not the eternal Dao.’

                Again, it’s like the pointing hand.

                And it’s always possible that too many words are used. And we go back to this Flower Sermon (Wikipedia):

                In the story, Śākyamuni gives a wordless sermon to his disciples (sangha) by holding up a white flower. No one in the audience understands the Flower Sermon except Mahākāśyapa, who smiles. Within Zen, the Flower Sermon communicates the ineffable nature of tathātā (suchness) and Mahākāśyapa’s smile signifies the direct transmission of wisdom without words.

      2. Amfortas the hippie

        like wu wei:

        this is why(i think) i’m more productive if i have a splif with coffee at 4 am…just glide through my tasks til my body puts a stop to it…almost like Sprezzatura( but without all the courtier pretension and useless elite nonsense.
        my grandad’s “walk by it and get it done”.

        this article reminds me of a lot of things(happy to see Gimbutas finally get her due, for instance)…but setting 6 10′ telephone pole posts this morning means that i’ll soon be far to high to discuss such things coherently
        so i’ll leave it at this:

        and from my favorite modern retelling of Arthurian Mythos:” you are a child of earth and starry heaven. you belong here…”

        shantih shantih.

        1. MyLessThanPrimeBeef

          Wu Wei is similar to what we are talking about here, but I think, nearer to the topic, it’s Wu Xin, or No Mind, from Chan (or Zen)…the non discrimination…the no separation between the arrow and the archer.

          1. RWood


            p. 5: “Actually, the processes of organic creation are realized in unforeseeable ways. On this realization, this recognition, is based our belief both in the possibility of truly creative processes and in the freedom of human choice, but above all in the responsibility of every human being.”

            Konrad Lorenz, The Waning of Humaneness

          2. Amfortas the hippie

            the oriental side of the Humanities is my weak side.
            nevertheless, Zen is how i taught the boys to hit things with a bow and arrow(“you ARE the arrow”.

      1. Drake

        Always loved Jack Vance, ever since I started running across short stories of his in SF compendiums (“The Moon Moth” is an awesome one). Later got into his SF and Fantasy novels. Loved “The Dying Earth” tales. I think I read “The Languages of Pao” but I have to go check my bookshelf. Vance is tragically underappreciated. He’s a bit odd, but wonderfully so.

  1. Robert Dannin

    “Which brings us to the current global economic system, founded on the premise that self-interested actors produce the best results for society. That’s a metaphor we have to drop, warns Lent, if we are to keep our shared humanity …”

    Is there anything really new here? This is another way of critiquing the myth of homo economicus at heart of capitalist ideology. Anthropologists can point to myriad societies, east & west or sedentary & nomadic, where this paradigm doesn’t hold water. Even Classical Greece made the distinction between ekonomia and crematistica, the former derived from an ethos of domestic (communal) sharing, the latter associated with hoarding practices of animals.

    More recently, Polanyi exposed this myth and put it to bed. Reducing the conflict to a language issue smacks of endless academic debate , a bourgeois trap that gets us nowhere.

    1. scarn

      To be fair to Mr. Lent, the reviewer may not be summarizing his argument in a fully cogent manner. Perhaps the book demonstrates that ideology arises out of material conditions which are then disciplined over time by ideology and so on. The review does make me want to read the book! Although the description of the author on the Amazon book page is not winning me over: “… the author, an entrepreneur and sustainability leader,…” . These are not my favored descriptors for a philosopher.

    2. chuck roast

      The thing that I loved about Polanyi was that he was first and foremost an economic anthropologist. He understood how ancient and modern communities connect…or disconnect.
      To this day I can see my professor (a Depression scarred Keynesian) waxing eloquent about Polanyi, arms waving, spittal flying everywhere and me sitting there with my head spinning.

  2. Synoia

    You cannot speak to someone in Japanese without using a form of address that stipulates their position relative to you. This is vastly more complex than European polite v. formal.

    Yes you Majesty
    Yes My Lord
    Yes Sir

    King George
    Duke George
    Earl George
    Lord George
    Sir George

    Historically, in Europe, if one get that wrong, there were repercussions. Serious ones, from a rebuke, through whipping, to death.

    1. Ian Perkins

      Historically, that kind of stuff was vitally important in Europe.
      Contrast that with the Khmer language. I’ve heard that one of the main Cambodian political parties, around fifteen or twenty years ago, chose to hold its meetings in English. If they used Khmer, and someone used a term meaning son of a high ranking civil servant with a middle ranking civil service post for someone who considered themselves to have the equivalent of a high ranking civil service job, guns would be drawn. Names are seldom used; the honorific is sufficiently detailed to say it all. And it’s not just politicians; ordinary middle class Khmers will feel deeply offended if another Khmer uses an inappropriate term of address. (Plebs often call each other bong or mit, roughly equivalent to friend.)
      The UK parliament and courts may persist with Your Honour, Your Worship, My Learned Friend and all that, but even there nobody whips you for getting it wrong, let alone kills you. Most people in the UK are scarcely aware of such niceties of rank.

      1. David

        This isn’t just about titles, and it is as much about relative position as absolute. A couple of simple examples. A shopkeeper or shop assistant will always use polite forms of address to a customer, irrespective of their apparent status, just because they are a customer. Likewise, a businessman will adopt polite forms of speech to a teacher, because teachers have higher social status than businessmen.
        I must say that, given the brutality of much Japanese history inside and outside the country, I doubt if language or culture has been much of a restraining influence compared to Europe.
        On the other hand, countries like Japan (“the land where the sun comes from”) and China (“the country in the centre of the world”) could be excused for having a good opinion of themselves.

        1. PlutoniumKun

          Yes, even the most superficial glance at Japanese (and Korean and Chinese) history shows that they are no less inclined to violence or environmental destruction than Europeans.

          What I find interesting is that Asian Christian writers such as Shusaku Endo often describe Christianity as a more pacific and equitable alternative to the Confucianism or Buddhism as practised in the real world. Sometimes the grass always seems greener on the other side.

          Incidentally, Korea is if anything even more extreme than Japan when it comes to the use of language to denote ones position in society. I once had to calm down a Korean barman in a Dublin bar because two young Korean customers (they’d just arrived as students, no doubt enjoying their new found freedom) used the wrong honorifics when ordering their beers – he was absolutely furious as he thought (probably correctly), they’d done it deliberately knowing they wouldn’t get thrown out or beaten up for doing this as they would at home.

      2. a different chris

        >Contrast that with the Khmer language.

        Confused, did you mean “Compare that with the Khmer language of today”? Because Synoia spoke of the careful delineation we used to have, and you spoke of the same issue in today’s Khymer?

        Anyway what drives me crazy when trying to read English history is exactly what you said and worse: “the honorific is sufficiently detailed to say it all”. But as “stuff happens”, people would achieve different honorifics and so in one chapter everybody is referred to in one way, and later after a war or whatever everybody now has different “handles”. So somebody who had a real name early was later just tagged “Glouchester” or some such nonsense, even dropping the “Duke” part. Makes my American brain hurt trying to keep them straight.

        1. Synoia

          Thanks, I was pointing out the author’s Thesis is questionable. Casual address is an American creation, which has spread worldwide (and I’m not debating the merits of that behavior).

          I went through a Military University as a Civilian. My behavior in addressing officers more senior that my classmates (lieutenants) was compose of deliberate cheekiness coupled with some respect.

          Don’t assume that the US form of casual address to others is either uniform in the US, or widespread around the world.

          An example: If I meet James Dyson, I can call him James. Others on meeting him would call him Sir James. I can do this because I have a prior relationship with Dyson, at school, and others do not, and it would be rude for them to call him James.

          Here a US titles list, as the US rump example of positional addressing:

          Yes Mr President
          Yes Senator
          Yes Congressman
          Yes Doctor

          and then there is the military where misaddressing a superior can carry severe punishment.

          Is the writer’s thesis thus flawed, or badly colored by cultural assumptions? I suspect so.

          1. Ragabhava

            “Casual address is an American creation, which has spread worldwide (and I’m not debating the merits of that behavior).”

            I beg to differ: Arabic ist strongly egalitarian in its use of singular adress to every single person, even the highest king.

            Of course Arabic is also extremely fond of a myriad of honorific or mocking titles/nicknames which have sometimes a meritocratic component to them.

            The traditional naming pattern in Arabic is very complex but what is truly interesting is the fact that a name (used) to change during ones lifetime (profession,provenance, family…) and one could gain flattering epithets like “the generous” or “the wise one” but also gain less flattering ones like “the penny pincher” or the one “with a head being hit too many times”. For instance, I know somene who used to be called “the high speed train” in his youth because he was a strong runner but is known by everyone today as “the father of the hashish pipe”.

            In any case, of course the casualness of modern english is a US influence, but saying that it has emerged there first is simply wrong. Just by being fluent in five languages I found the mistake – and there are thousands of languages.

            In the Arab speaking world by far the most common form of adress makes only a distinction beween age groups : almost every one calls everyone son/daughter (if they are younger), brother/sister (if they are of the same age) or “venerable older person” (many variations here, like sheikh,cherif,hajj/hajja,lalla…). And all are spoken to in the first form of singular.

            I’ve always enjoyed this form of casualness.

            1. Ragabhava

              addendum about my example of an evolving nickname in Arabic (I find it truly fascinating and often hilarious): the person I’m referring to “gained” the nickname “Aouita” after the great Moroccan runner of the 80ies due to his running speed. It was an epithet reflecting true admiration.

              Then, his performance declined over a few years and at that moment the first high speed train in Morocco was also officialy named “Aouita”. People quickly found out that the new high speed train wasn’t that fast after all and so, my guy became “Aouita Moultrain” (“Aouita, the boss of the train”) to distinguish him from the real runner “Aouita” and to reflect the disappointment in his running career.

              Over the years, he also gained the habit of indulging far too much in Cannabis and hence he’s reffered to today as “Aouita Moultrain Bouchqoufa” (Aouita Boss Of The Train Father Of The Hashish Pipe”) in the neighbourhood, a nickname which somehow reflects his reputation in the community. I note that only friends and neighbours (neighbours include the whole “hood” in this case) call him that way.

        2. Ian Perkins

          I meant the Khmer language of today, in which ordinary middle class Khmers will feel deeply – sometimes very deeply, to the extent of feeling the need to revenge themselves by murder at times – offended if another Khmer uses an inappropriate term of address. Murdering folk who misaddress you would seem absurd and anachronistic in the West, I think.
          To be sure, Khmer people’s relative status has changed after wars and whatever, but the central and primary importance of status hasn’t much.

          1. eg

            How is this different from the violent and sometimes fatal response in street culture when the wrong person is “dissed?”

          2. HotFlash

            My son in Philadelphia says that there they call it ‘dissing’. And it can trigger violent response. Would this be a similar thing?

    2. hemeantwell

      there were repercussions. Serious ones, from a rebuke, through whipping, to death.

      So, so right! Any discussion of the cognitive scaffolding of social organization that omits discussion of how it integrates coercive threat is uncovering ideology only to reestablish it. Stuff like this revives the threadbare criticism of idealism. It’s politics as enlightenment in a willfully naive form. One of the things about a sociopolitical crisis is that it not only reveals the limits of ruling ideas, but also that they were indeed ruling.

      1. RWood

        A word on that “naive form”?

        I believe the sanctions are revelatory of rule, the rule of what is right. The Power Elite have sought long and hard to establish truth, and they will not be satisfied until it is revealed, admitted.

    3. MyLessThanPrimeBeef

      Traditionally, the implied power hiearchy in China involved more than just words.

      It could be the color of their clothes. For example, only the emperor was allowed to wear yellow, or use yellow porcelain plates or bowls. An authentic yellow, kesi dragon robe would fetch a very, very high price in an auction.

      A Xucai degree holder (the lowest among Imperial Exam degree holders) was allowed to wear blue, and the term, blue-robe, has come down to mean a scholar living in austerity (or not corrupt).

      Another form was the Naming Taboo. From the same (Wikipedia):

      A naming taboo is a cultural taboo against speaking or writing the given names of exalted persons in China and within the Chinese cultural sphere. It was enforced by several laws throughout Imperial China, but its cultural and possibly religious origins predate the Qin dynasty. Not respecting the appropriate naming taboos was considered a sign of lacking education and respect, and brought shame both to the offender and the offended person.

      There is a Vietnamese example in the Wiki article.

      1. HotFlash

        OK, well, tastes vary, but in the West it was Tyrian purple that was reserved to the emperor. Other European sumptuary laws regulated types of shoes, fabrics, colours, lengths of sleeves, and more minutia, that the various classes and sexes could wear.

        In China there were laws about hairstyles. In the middle east and much of the west, including the new world, women were required by law or custom to cover their heads. Men did outside buildings but *not* inside (exceptions, of course, eg, Jewish — a dear friend’s Eastern European grandfather would scold him for wearing his baseball hat in the house, “Do you want people to think you are Jewish?” My BFF’s mom was admonished by her father for wanting a red jacket. “Only fast girls wear red!”, he fumed. (NB, on her retirement she bought herself a red blazer, the first red article of clothing she had ever owned).

        Hair, colours, hats — the subject of many laws and cultural taboos, from many countries and cultures. So, asking with respect, what’s your point?

    4. Darius

      In Japanese, you use a different word for give depending on relative status. An adult would use one word for giving to children or animals and another for giving to another adult, particularly an elder. Down versus up. Also the word for giving something to another adult implies humility in the giver. Other verbs may differ depending on status or condition.

      1. Yves Smith Post author

        Correct, there are also forms of address for subordinates v. supervisors in organizations, which is “junior” versus “senior”.

    5. Yves Smith Post author

      Using honorifics is not at all the same. With Japanese, every sentence uses a particular form of address. And as indicated above, the speaker can also chose a form of address that is a mild diss or alternatively, chose one that is unnecessarily elevated in a deliberate display of groveling. By contrast, no one would use with a baron an honorific reserved for the king.

      1. Synoia

        Yes Japan exhibits the extreme of feudalism in their manners and speech.

        Tone provides a similar, but less exact form in English.

        “no one would use with a baron an honorific reserved for the king” Umm, sarcasm is an art form in England.

  3. Prabhar

    Lynn Parramore writes:

    PIE speakers developed core metaphors of domination

    The essay overlooks the “I” component at the core of “PIE”. The essay’s monism-dualism distinction is inadequately informed by the teachings of Siddhārtha Gautama and of the Vedic teachings:

    the seeker starts looking at the world through a different looking-glass. Earlier he was feeling ‘I am’, ‘My body’ ‘Your house’ etc., and now he feels that all relative things of the world as that very Brahman itself. … Everything that is perceived in human consciousness is seen as the manifestation of Brahman. This truth becomes a fact in the Sadhaka’s life. This is called ‘samyakdarshana’.
    (commentary on Mantra 16)

    The PIE affirmation of “Atman which is Brahman without differences” was noted by, for example, F. S. C. Northrop in Man, Nature and God [New York: Pocket Books, 1963]. The “core metaphors of domination” are found in the unregulated self ruled by desires who is passion-dominated and given to the pursuit of pleasure — his craving steadily grows. But he who is free from craving, for him this is the last body.

    Beset by craving,

    people run about like an entrapped hare.

    Held fast by mental fetters,

    they come to suffering again and again

    The Dhammapada

    1. Susan the other`

      I’m beginning to suspect that the native Americans were the most enlightened of all. The wisest, through patience and humility, of all the other over-rationalized philosophies. They respected the earth; the animals; the spirit that infuses it all; their own lives and secret identities and faith in the “one”. Which was translated into the “creator”. A very complex entity. And speaking of the disconnect of language: physicists now after almost 2 centuries of careful experimentation are approaching a possible theory which connects all and everything. As it should be. But so hard to put into thought and words. The native Americans attributed everything to the “one”. We are approaching their wisdom because we are declining our perceived reality down into one source as well. Energy, matter and gravity seem to be converging into 3 phases of the same thing. Our alienation, our disconnect, is panic. The search for security. (which probably also has 3 (looney) phases: panic, greed, identity.) A good first step is to just cut bait and make people secure. And provide for the needs of both the planet and the people; the creatures – our fellow travelers; the ecosystems. We’ve got the tools and it isn’t too late. We just need to shed our fear and some obviously silly ideas and just get on with it.

      1. Synoia

        Hunter Gatherers do not need much hierarchy, and are more egalitarian and cooperative.

        When all your food animals are much stronger than oneself, cooperation is the only strategy.

        Thus one postulate is: Environment defines much Behavior, and one cannot compare behaviors in the European Middle ages with that of American Indians, that is: between hunter/gatherers and agriculture based regimes.

      2. MyLessThanPrimeBeef

        The Aztecs’ origins story seems to suggest they came from America.

        So, native Americans can include those pre-Columbians in Mexico. And if we consider them, or the Mayans as native Americans, they were not hunter-gatherers so much as farmers, and their societies were organized differently than we are used to see today in many parts of the world.

        We are in no position to judge some of their aspects, such as human sacrifice.

        As such, we should not rush to say the Mayans (or any indigenous people) were worse, (the reverse applies as well) or better.

  4. Jim A.

    I wouldn’t say that language PREVENTS different ways of thinking. English does not really have words to distinguish the spiciness of horseradish and the spiciness of peppers. But most people agree that they are different and the distinction is a useful one. But language does make some thoughts much easier to express. It is much easier to go through the jungle on a road than to cut a path with a machete.

  5. inode_buddha

    I think our use of written and spoken language is a reflection of the way our minds have evolved as a species. We tend to not do very well at self-preservation under certain kinds of stress, nor in large groups. We tend to have addictions as a mental phenomenon, which manifests itself as self-harm either individually (booze) or in large groups (agitprop/warfare and mass diseases). These addictions are a fairly accurate way of reflecting the way we have evolved.

  6. Bret Bowman

    The premise of changing deepest metaphors is doomed, according to neuro science, because those original metaphors are actual physical structures developed in the first four or five years of life, and all subsequent learned metaphors are lain upon these deepest, pre-rational metaphors, in more or less metaphorically concentric layers, never contradicting the deeper, earlier metaphors nearer the center.

    Think, “light is good while dark is bad,” based on being an infant with an infant’s perceptions of good and bad.

    1. mle detroit

      All the more reason to root out those deepest metaphors. Think of Oscar Hammerstein’s lyric in “South Pacific”: “You’ve got to be taught to hate and fear…it’s got to be drummed in your dear little ear…” If you’re the petrified parent of a Black child in America, whom do you teach your kids to fear?

      1. Bret Bowman

        You’d have to use knitting needles and/or a melon baller to get at them. As I said, they are actual physically manifest structures, not ideas or anything we can get to; not ever. The closest anyone ever gets is one or another version of Enlightenment, which is quite rare.

  7. Daniel Raphael

    Whether anything not literally hard is “hard-wired” into human beings is an idea that should be kept firmly and continually in view; reductionisms that have, at various times and in different locales, informed us that we are a behavior, a gene, a chemical reaction, a social role, a statistic…have something in common, and it isn’t something beneficial to us. The postmodern philosophers were not so much appalled by frames and totalities as by their precedent and dynamic form: enframing and totalizing, which has now produced our end-stage toxic process of capital uber alles.

    Heidegger warned us of this, writing in detail and at length about enframing and its implications for thinking…but there was nothing of a “hard-wired” nature in this, as indeed thinking is, last I checked, a process susceptible of apprehending even its own limitations without the benefit of mechanical metaphor. One of Heidegger’s interlocutors, David Michael Levin, whose own work draws upon many other philosophers, explicitly addresses this crisis–the one we are living through now–in his book The Opening of Vision, which is a flowering from several previous volumes written over a span of many years. He writes about the egological human being and society as distinct from the ecological, and the profound difference entailed therein. It is a matter not only of ideology–though it certainly matters how we think and, inevitably, frame matters–but of living this into being. As has been noted more than once, the point of philosophy is not merely to note what needs to be changed, but to change it.

    Before we assume that our present, manifestly untenable way of (dis)ordering societies simply needs to be “regulated,” we would do well to reflect upon the implicit duality of the regulated and that which regulates. Where our relationships are ones of conflict, competition, and worse, we indeed will need and produce separate actors to at least attempt some reduction of resultant mayhem. This separation, however, carries with it a bevy of familiar problems, ones that have in fact produced the very circumstance we need to resolve: it is separation that is the product of dualistic thinking, and it is our corollary estrangement, alienation, enmities, and murderous nationalisms that have proceeded therefrom.

    It’s not enough to “think better,” though that certainly is always a task before us; we must act out, embody, and make real the human community that presently exists only as a grotesque caricature. We will, to recall Dr. King’s words, die as fools or live together as brothers/sisters.

  8. World Abounding

    Why do you want to change the world? Do you think you know how to change the world? Do you think you know how to be a better person? Why then are you not a better person?

  9. jfleni

    Are Cognitive Frameworks Hard-Coded in Language Driving Humanity to Crisis?

    Pardon me but so WONKY it’s UN-INTELLIGABLE!!!!

  10. inode_buddha

    I’ve long felt that many of the answers for our civilization are written on the walls of the bathroom stalls in various places, vox populi… one of my all-time favorites was a discussion thread at work in small print wherein people were criticizing each other’s grammar and spelling (this is in a heavy industrial plant…)

    “Yall has to stop hanging with illeterats!!”

  11. divadab

    The thesis that proto-Indo-European languages originated in the steppe in the bronze age is simplistic and questionable. Much more likely they are older – deeper into the Mesolithic – and the steppe invasions and expansions were a back-migration of one or a group of Indo-european tribes that had mastered new technology (horsemanship, mounted archers, chariots) and potentially genetics (lactose tolerance in adulthood) and were super successful as a result. The paleolithic continuity paradigm and alternatively the anatolian PIE theory are more plausible alternatives.

    SO I question the author’s origins thesis – I think it more likely to have been codified in Genesis – the dominionist model of humanity’s overlordship of the rest of creation. But blaming the the white guys is pretty standard and never gets anyone in trouble……

  12. KFritz

    Robert Graves, (who could, broadly and not very subtly, be characterized as a champion of the pre-PIE Mediterranean/European Mother Goddess culture) mocked the weaknesses and excesses of the PIE mindset with the first verse of the poem which ends his original edition of “The White Goddess.” I suspect that Graves would have found some concurrences with Lent’s thesis and his own ideas.

    Swordsman of the narrow lips,
    Narrow hips and murderous mind
    Fenced with chariots and ships,
    By your joculators hailed
    The mailed wonder of mankind,
    Far to westward you have sailed

    1. divadab

      Not established that Mediterranean/European Mother Goddess culture was pre-PIE. According to the Anatolian theory of PIE homeland, the earliest farmers in Europe were PIE speakers. According to the paleolithic continuity paradigm, PIE predates farming deep into the Mesolithic populations of Europe.

      The paradigm of conquering warrior PIE speakers rapidly colonizing all of Europe and replacing thepeaceful mother earth pre-IE populations is a fable much beloved by fascists but not supported by the archaeological or genetic evidence, tho the linguists love it.

  13. Sam Adams

    Three concepts. The western ideas of the individual, the second is the subcontinent ideas of of societal strata or tribalism and third being the Asian ideas of of family structure govern how we think.

    1. deplorado

      I think Fukuyama discussed something to that effect in “Origins of Political Order” – but it is so (unhelpfully) dense, I can’t vouch that I am entirely correct.

  14. Chauncey Gardiner

    Thank you for this post. The reactions on talk radio and other media to an autistic 16-year old Swedish climate activist’s recent speech at the UN were enlightening. They point to other elements besides the cultural values mentioned by Lynn Parramore in her review of Jeremy Lent’s work as being behind our seeming inability and opposition to address climate change. These include a lack of public awareness or acceptance of the gravity and immediacy of the problem; increasing recognition of the complexity, economic impacts and difficulty of implementing effective policies; psychological factors that inhibit constructive action; and complacency, among others.

    From the linked article above: …”When we should have heeded the warnings in the 1980s we instead picked up Gordon Gekko’s mantra that ‘greed is good’ and embarked on a three-decade-long spree of hedonistic living.  We thought we could sort it out later, but now it seems it might be too late. And when a voice from a younger generation questions that, instead of listening we resort to insulting it.”

    1. Oregoncharles

      Speaking of language: autistic people don’t give speeches, let alone to the UN, or lead movements. She’s an Asperger’s person, which is a personality type with a very dubious, imo, connection to autism. It’s something I’m intimately familiar with. The psychiatric association lumped them together for some nefarious purpose of their own, probably to sell more drugs.

        1. Oregoncharles

          Good question. I can’t, really. She can characterize herself – which most autistic people cannot. However, she does seem more severe than most Asperger’s people, despite her remarkable coping strategies. Psychology does not come in clear-cut categories, which is the shrinks’ excuse for calling it a “spectrum.” Personally, I think it’s weird to say that people have a “spectrum.”

          Perhaps she’s an example of the wonders that really good therapy can do.

      1. Chauncey Gardiner

        Thanks, OC. Not to diminish an amazing person, nor detract from her message. My comment is based on what I read about her, which was widely discussed in the media during her visit to the US. This from an article in Salon on Sept 12:

        …”From her first moments in the spotlight, Thunberg has been open about the fact that she is on the autism spectrum. (She uses the familiar term “Asperger’s syndrome,” which is no longer used for diagnostic purposes in the U.S.)”

  15. Oregoncharles

    ” the Chinese, protected from PIE invaders during their early history by the Himalayas,”
    It’s a minor point, but this doesn’t make much sense geographically. The Himalayas blocked spread from India (except cultural, eg Buddhism), but they run east-west and the Indo-Europeans came from the west. The mountains are lower farther north, and indeed there are mummies of likely Indo-Europeans in Sinkiang, buried in the sand. It’s more likely the barriers were distance, deserts, and perhaps a more coherent Chinese civilization. The Chinese presumably got horses from them, though.

    1. divadab

      The Tocharians were a well-established indo-european culture at the eastern end of the silk road and there is strong evidence that it was they who introduced bronze technology to the Chinese. The Tocharians were overrun by theTurkic-speaking Uighers, who are a hybrid Turkic-Tocharian population genetically.

      SO yes the author gets this wrong also. A very thin thesis, IMHO.

      1. Oregoncharles

        thanks for providing the name and details. I couldn’t remember it, and it sounds like there’s been a lot learned since I read about them.

      2. MyLessThanPrimeBeef

        Thanks for mentioning the Tocharians.

        I had always associated them with later periods, and it could be that I was most impressed with the fresco shown here at the top of their Wikipedia article (6th century, Kizil cave):

        After reading up some more there, I see the Tocharians went all the way back to 2,000 BC, and thus it is possible that they introduced bronze making technology to China, the earliest evidence of bronze there was found in Erlitou Culture sites, which is thought to exist between 1900 BC to 1500 BC…maybe. So, it is possible.

        One particular stunning piece from an Erlitou site is this one from Wikimedia (and the Erlitou culture has been suggested to be the legendary Xia dynasty that preceded the Shang dynasty):,_1900-1350_BC,_Neolithic_to_Shang_period,_Erlitou_culture,_China,_bronze_with_turquoise_inlay_-_Sackler_Museum_-_DSC02627.JPG

        The mask seems to depict that mythical beast, Taotie, who had no jaw, and was forever insatible. It was made with numerous small emerald stones that were set in place, with no adheseive, into grooves that were cast with the particular design pattern (think Champleve instead of Cloisonne).

        Again, the source of emerald, like lapis lazuli, might have been Afganistan or some other central Asian countries.

    2. MyLessThanPrimeBeef

      You’re onto something here.

      From King Mu of Zhou, Wikipedia:

      One Chinese myth tells a story about Mu, who dreamed of becoming an immortal.[4][5][6] He was determined to visit the divine paradise of Kunlun and taste the Peaches of Immortality. A brave charioteer named Zaofu used his chariot to carry the king to his destination.[7] The Tale of King Mu, Son of Heaven, a fourth-century BC romance, describes Mu’s visit to the Queen Mother of the West

      The Queen Mother of the West lived in Xinjiang (Sinkiang), and could be related to Scythians/Sarmatians (who might have been the Amazonians to the ancient Greeks…tall, female-chieftains or leaders unearthed there).

      There might have been royal marriages between the ancient Chinese and these Amazonians.

      The queen of king Wu Ding (of the dynasty before Zhou) – her name was Fu Hao – was said to be a fierce warrior assisting her royal husband in subjugating the Yi tribes to their east (where Confucius was born a few hundred years after that). She was so unusual in that aspect that one might suspect her to be a Scythian.

      Also, the jade objects found in Hong Shan culture in Mongolia include mostly serpentine gemstones (ancient Chinese used the Chinse word, yu, which translates as jade, for all kinds of stones), and some Lapis lazuli. I have one small such object from Hong Shan, in the shape of a bird or hawk. Now, the main source of lapis lazuli has been, for thousands of years, in the mountains of Afganistan, bordering Uzbikstan and Xinjiang. (There is one that is still being mined, today, after over thousands of years). This, I believe, shows the ancient routes between China and the ‘Western Regions.”

      1. divadab

        Many thanks for taking the time! I’ve been fascinated by the Tocharians since I read a National Geographic article about the red-haired, tartan leggings-wearing mummies in Xinjiang. An enterprising bunch!

        The decipherment of the Tocharian language, extinct since the 9th century (?), was accomplished by virtue of documents, mostly Buddhist, which were written in Sanskrit and Tocharian and one other language that eludes me. SO an enterprising and learned bunch, sadly now extinct, at least culturally.

  16. Oregoncharles

    ” Core metaphors center less on domination than fitting in and attending to the needs of others: the words for “to care for” and “to govern” are same. ”
    But Chinese political culture is nonetheless extremely, and very successfully, imperialist and authoritarian. Makes ya wonder.

    The basic idea goes way back in anthropology, where it was called “Culture and Personality” studies; ie, the notion that culture, esp. language, shapes the personality of those who grow up in it. Trouble was, they couldn’t substantiate it, beyond using different catchwords. Human personalities seem to be pretty universal.

    For an example, beyond personality: supposedly, Navajo talks about space and time in ways that correspond to actual physics far better than, say, English. (It’s also very difficult to learn, so I wouldn’t know.) But modern physics nonetheless developed among (mostly) Indo-European speakers, not Navajos, because the prerequisites existed there. Physical reality and cultural resources seem to be more important than linguistic quirks.

    On a more short-term basis, framing does matter, and some of that is built into habitual phrases and word uses. But it wouldn’t change in a generation if it were down at the root.

  17. Jack Brown

    This kind of Sapir-Whorf linguistic relativism has been pretty comprehensively discredited scientifically. It has a certain dorm-room late-night bull-session appeal, but little or no real evidence has ever been produced for it. If you want explanations for PIE expansionism you’re much better off looking to geographic explanations, a la Jared Diamond, or complex historical conjunctures which defy one-sentence summaries altogether.

    1. Oregoncharles

      The domestication of horses was a big factor. They’re symbols of power to this day.

      Sapir-Whorf. Yes, that’s what I was fishing for. Was a long time ago.

    2. Jeremy Grimm

      Haw!!! You beat me!! UGH!

      This post is just a re-heated version of the Sapir–Whorf hypothesis in linguistics. The movie “Arrival” projects a particularly extreme version of the Whorf hypothesis. I think this hypothesis puts the cart before the horse. I believe language reflects a “mindset” — a “cognitive framework”. An Eskimo has words for many different kinds of snow because an Eskimo looks at snow differently than someone unfamiliar with running sleds and dogs. The special words are a shorthand for the concepts an Eskimo needs to describe snow. They make it easier to think about snow for Eskimo uses and make it easier to communicate about snow to other Eskimo sled drivers who may wish to cross an area. A non-Eskimo sled driver can conceptualize snow as well as an Eskimo — but has greater difficulty communicating. I believe this difficulty in communicating is the largest part of Neoliberal efforts to drive all discussions of economics into their vocabulary. I think the difficulty in communicating using bad jargon is one of the great hobbles with which Marxists have crippled themselves. Scientists, Physicians, Lawyers, and any who presume a place among the learned have gone to lengths to obfuscate their communications deliberately creating an aura of mystery and magic.

      But the assertion: “First we’ll need to confront something deep in our psyches that prods us toward destruction” tells of an ancient concern we have about our kind. Humankind is remarkably new. The physical types of CroMagnon Man were scampering about almost a million years ago but there is little to distinguish this creature from other proto-humans until around 100 thousand years ago. Even then the distinctions were small until about 30 thousand years ago when quite suddenly Humankind became a very different kind of animal. That is very recent time on the scale of geologic time. Hardly time enough for evolution to weed out any design flaws.

      The concept of original sin is one of the earliest notions of a flaw innate to humankind. Much later Freud’s concept of Todestrieb [death drive] or Jung’s “Wotan” carry forward the idea of a flaw innate to humankind. Much more recently, theories seeking to explain the nature of the change in Humankind 30 thousand years ago suggest the possibility of some as yet un-expunged flaws in the human design. A recent essay in PNAS addresses, “How Could Language Have Evolved?”, [] the very recent arrival of Humankind as a special kind of animal. The potential flaws in the human design are implicit from its very recent origins.

      Contrary to many theories of this flaw in human design — I would tie the human capacity for cooperation, which language enabled, with other human traits to construct a theory of human drives contrary to human survival. I believe hierarchy is necessary to actuate human cooperation beyond a certain scale. I suspect that lower limiting scale is the roughly 200 person hierarchy characteristic of hunter gatherer cultures [the number proposed in the book “Sapiens”]. Humankind can ‘know’ roughly 200 persons and well judge their fitness to lead, but beyond that number we must trust more and more to the ‘judgement of others’. It is within the power of potential leaders to influence and craft that ‘judgement of others’ which we might rely upon. I believe most of us are quite happy to enjoy a full life of family and friends avoiding larger responsibilities when we can. But there are some who more fully enjoy holding dominion over others, and who will willingly adopt the responsibilities the rest of us would prefer not to concern ourselves with. There are those who greatly appreciate wealth and special things well beyond normal avarice and would willingly sacrafice the basic needs of others to satisfy their desires for luxury and wealth. This is to suggest that sociopaths and psychopaths live among Humankind. But they are powerless without followers.

      Part of cooperation involves following the direction of a leader, especially for cooperation beyond the 200 person scale. I believe the Milgram experiments map the other flaw which combined with our populations of sociopaths and psychopaths works to move Humankind toward ends that lead to the destruction of Humankind — note this is different than a drive toward self-destruction. A disappointingly large proportion of Humankind will follow orders as long as someone of higher authority sanctions those orders, asserts their rightness and necessity, and claims to assume responsibility for their outcome. I can speak from own experience about the ability to work for sociopaths and psychopaths. My jobs were so small and so inconsequential there was little to assume responsibility for … except … what horror cannot be subdivided into thousands or millions of inconsequential, unimportant pieces which when assembled together become a horror beyond the imaginings of most of those who worked on the project. A little compartmentalization can go a very long way indeed.

      So — cooperation — not killer inclinations — originates Humankind’s original sin.

  18. Oregoncharles

    ” Split off from nature and from each other, westerners evolved with a sense of anomie and antagonism toward nature.”
    Also hardly a new idea, but true. Note that he traces it to certain philosophical traditions, not the roots of the language.

    I think the value here is in his emphasis on the bane of dualism. I’ve seen claims that it’s a human universal, but it might be Western. Buddhism certainly counters it (Indo-European language). It’s certainly the bane of clear thought or finding solutions, and a gold mine for propagandists.

    1. Anarcissie

      And yet some forms of dualism have proved mighty useful. For instance, one could dualistically decide that dualism was bad, and that therefore major human social problems like excess aggression could be solved by somehow expelling dualism from the human psyche, especially if this dualism could be assigned to the usual suspects. The elaboration of this theory, as long as it was protected from certain snotty wise guys, might sell books or enable success on the lecture circuit, and even lead to a TED talk or an article in the New Yorker.

  19. TG


    Cognitive frameworks hard-coded in MONEY are driving humanity to crisis.

    The rich want cheap labor, and economic growth for the sake of economic growth (i.e., that does not materially benefit the average person). So the rich have been forcing population growth ever upwards, by encouraging high fertility rates, replacing low-fertility populations with high fertility populations (immigration does not just move people around, it maximizes overall population growth), and mostly, by refusing to allow people to recognize that having more children than they can reasonably support will NOT create prosperity.

    The Syrian government started a campaign to maximize population growth, they propagandized that it was every woman’s patriotic duty to have six or seven kids, they criminalized the sale and possession of birth control, they got the population to double in just 18 years, and then double again in another 18 years, and then… oops, the aquifers were drained (despite normal rainfall!) and things fell apart. Yet it is forbidden to discuss this in the mainstream press.

    Any journalist or economist talking about this would be fired and blacklisted. Not so much because the global rich care about Syria, but because any discussion of the negative effects of too-rapid population growth in Syria might bleed into similar discussions as regards the United States, or Canada, or South Africa, or Hong Kong, etc.etc.

    The Sapir-Worf hypothesis states that there are certain thoughts of an individual that cannot be understood by those who think in another language. Intriguing but hypothetical. This needs to be revised. There are certain thoughts of an individual that cannot be understood by those whose income depends on them not understanding it. This is confirmed.

    1. alan2102

      “the rich have been forcing population growth ever upwards, by encouraging high fertility rates, replacing low-fertility populations with high fertility populations (immigration does not just move people around, it maximizes overall population growth)”

      Immigration into the U.S. or Europe (which I assume is what you mean by “immigration”) is not a significant factor in global population growth or degrowth. The rate of global population growth topped out in ~1986 and has been declining steadily ever since, and is unaffected (or at least is not significantly affected) by population movements into developed countries.

      1. Jeremy Grimm

        Unless something is done, most world cultures and religions encourage population growth. Little to nothing has been done. Big money has little interest in slowing population growth. Big money tends to be selective about what populations they grow and what skill sets they bring — depending on where local labor appears to be gaining some leverage.

        Moving populations from low income high birth rate nations to higher income low birth rate nations tends to decrease the overall birth rate but it also tends to raise the birth rate in the low birth rate countries with an influx of higher birth rate immigrants — who as a group will in the future tend to have fewer children than they might have had if they remained in their country of origin.

        Year World Population Yearly Change Net Change Density (P/Km²) Urban Pop Urban Pop %
        2019 7,713,468,100 1.08 % 82,377,060 52 4,299,438,618 56 %
        1986 4,960,567,912 1.84 % 89,646,172 33 2,062,604,394 42 %

        The rate of population growth may have topped out in the mid-1980s but we’re still doing fine growing the human populations. Without some green Miracle we’ll soon outgrow rate of food production. There are many indications of future problems maintaining current levels of food production. There are also long standing problems of food distribution to those who need it. There are many indications of future problems with the basic logistics of food distribution.

        I think I might hold off on any celebrations that the rate of population growth may have topped out.

    1. PlutoniumKun

      Interesting article, but utterly fabulous btl discussion, the commentariat here really are first class.

  20. ChadH

    Interesting tie-in to Julian Jaynes’ theories. Jaynes argued that ancient peoples did not distinguish between ‘self’ and other’ the way more modern people do. There is no conceptual term for ‘self’ in the Iliad, for example, nor is there in the earliest Vedic literature like the Rig Veda. Such terms only arise much later, for example, in Plato and the Upanishads.

    He argued that the shift in language to describe a self-reflective self caused a fundamental change in human cognition. Most controversially, he suggested that prior to the recursive self-concept, people’s own deliberative decision-making was perceived as a god commanding their actions, and that descriptions of people being commanded by gods and speaking to gods in ancient literature was actually their own internal voice–the left linguistic hemisphere being perceived as a disembodied voice by the right (what he called the ‘bicameral mind’). He found traces of this in the modern mind with hypnosis and schizophrenia.

    1. Jeremy Grimm

      I guess I read Jaynes a little differently. As I understood his theory he postulates a new structure in the human mind to handle the transfer of information and delegation of consciousness between the two hemispheres of the brain. I don’t recall that he argued “the shift in language to describe a self-reflective self caused a fundamental change in human cognition” but rather that the shift in language resulted from a fundamental change in human cognition as the human consciousness began to reside in one camera of the mind.

  21. Anon

    This Post should be forwarded to the NBA’s Houston Rockets General Manager (D. Morey). It seems he might better understand that “free speech” in the Individual-centered Western cultures rings different in the group-centered Eastern cultures. (But Democracy you claim? Look at the choices/actions this “freedom” has wrought.)

  22. RBHoughton

    I suspect it might go further than the brief introduction suggests NC.

    Here in China the people are conditioned in their long history to hold quite different evaluations of situations than Westerners conditioned in the English mindset. It is one of the problems that the West has constantly encountered when contracting with the East. I know an example where we failed to get advantageous commercial terms when our army of invasion was still in the country. We Poms occupied India for centuries and hardly penetrated the Hindu mindset although we got a good understanding of the Mughals in the early days. I rather suspect the negotiations for the handover of Hong Kong were done poorly by the British Foreign Office because they failed to factor in the many possibilities that the terminology allowed. Had they addressed extradition, as would normally be the case, Hong Kong would not now be a war-zone. It may also be a factor in the endless negotiations between USA / China on trade advantages.

    I guess to elucidate this subject needs someone exposed equally to two or more cultural rule-sets. Its not just language that separates us.

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