Conscientious Objections: Stirring Up Trouble About by Neil Postman

By Neil Postman

In a sequence of feisty and eventually hopeful essays, one among America's sharpest social critics casts a wise eye over modern tradition to bare the worst—and the best—of our behavior of discourse, developments in schooling, and obsessions with technological novelty. Readers will locate themselves rethinking lots of their bedrock assumptions: may still schooling transmit tradition or safeguard us opposed to it? Is technological innovation development or a particularly American dependancy? whilst every person watches an identical tv programs—and tv manufacturers don't discriminate among the audiences for Sesame highway and Dynasty—is youth something greater than a sentimental proposal? Writing within the traditions of Orwell and H.L. Mencken, Neil Postman sends surprise waves of wit and significant intelligence in the course of the cultural desert.

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Instead both are caused by a drop in atmospheric pressure. The same might be true of a “cultural” phenomenon like the resemblance of young people’s food preferences to those of their parents. Perhaps children learn what to eat by observing their parents’ behavior and mimicking it. Such a scenario suggests that tastes for particular foods are memes being duplicated through social learning. But alternatively the correlation in consumption habits between generations could be due to a universal, inborn Set of taste buds that bias the learning of each person as they acquire a knowledge of what foods taste good through individual trial and error.

We need to run through these theoretical alternatives to see if we can eliminate any of them on other grounds besides adherence to the Darwinian program. The challenge faced by memetics, as one of the applicants for the job of explaining cultural evolution, will come into much better focus once we have distinguished these alternatives. SOCIOBIOLOGY The first “modern” evolutionary theory of society and culture to arise was sociobiology. O. Wilson’s authoritative book, whose title, Sociobiology, gave the discipline its name.

Basically the brain is an invisible intermediary and can be ignored because it does its job perfectly, translating the needs of the organism into the optimally correct behavioral response. The presumption is simply that whatever is required, selection will have produced it. A considerable number of studies show that various human behaviors do tend to maximize some measure of fitness, as exacted by the tenets of sociobiology. Typically the empirical test is whether some characteristic correlates well with the number of offspring an individual has, which is taken as a good approximation of fitness.

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