Exploring the Digital Age Acculturation

In her book titled When Old Technologies Were New (1988), Carolyn Marvin mentioned that “new technologies will bring every individual… into immediate and effortless communication with every other, practically obliterate political geography, and make free trade universal.” A seemingly prophetic line, indeed. People around the world are now closer than ever. What made this transformation possible? And what are the cultural implications of a more connected global landscape?

Technological achievements when it comes to transportation, though very significant, is just but a speck of this radical social transformation. During the last five decades, the advancement that truly shaped the image of our global landscape is our communication system – the Internet, to be more precise. As of the moment, almost all of us have an available access to telecommunication devices for fast and reliable connection. In numbers, China is currently leading the chart on world’s highest Internet users with 721,434,547 active users as of June 2016. This is followed by India (with 462,124,989 users) and United States (with 286,942,362 users). We are living in a world wherein human populations are greatly enmeshed. This connection grows staggeringly fast each day. With this context, I think it is apt to state that the Internet is currently shaping a new type of acculturation where personal culture contact is absent but transfer and exchange of cultural traits still happen. Anthropologist Conrad Kottak defines acculturation as “the exchange of cultural features that results when groups have continuous firsthand contact. With acculturation, parts of the culture change, but each group remains distinct.”

Whether acculturation is facilitated by coercion and force is still contested. Acculturation is, most of the time, between dominant and submissive culture. It actually entails a two-way process of change though many researches focus on the adjustments and adaptations by minority groups to dominant mainstream groups. Interestingly, the dawn of digital age is starting to transcend the textbook definition of acculturation. Traditionally, continuous firsthand culture contact is a prerequisite for acculturation to take place. Digital realm, however, enables people to connect and continuously contact other people (firsthand) even though they are physically distant. This is when the cyberspace comes in. Basically, Internet is a dynamic and evolving system of global network that connects millions of computers through the use of standard Internet protocol suite. An article written by Jonathan Strickland (Who Owns the Internet?) contains a very unorthodox presentation on how Internet protocol works:

“Imagine you’re in a room full of people from different countries, and everyone only speaks his or her native language. In order to communicate, you’d have to come up with a standard set of rules and vocabulary. That’s what makes the Internet so remarkable: It’s a system that lets different computer networks communicate with each other using a standardized set of rules. Without rules, these computer networks wouldn’t be able to communicate with each other.”

Internet protocol suite, the standardized set of rules, enables computer of different “Internet Protocol” IP addresses (the identity and location of your computer) to communicate across networks. We can create a network through a router – a hardware that connects one computer to another. The router, then, fires transmission signals to satellites that will then distribute the message and the connection to other existing networks around the world. We have now a global system of network. And the connection is growing ridiculously fast!

Live video calling between individual is already possible. Discussions at chat rooms and forum websites do exist. It is as if Internet has the ability to devoid the geographical boundaries of different people and let them have personal contact in just few mouse clicks. The phenomenon is fascinating because firsthand contacts between different cultures are actually happening without one physically meeting the other. For example, a Korean national that uses the Internet can easily converse and discuss with a German national even though they are thousands of miles apart. They can share their ideas, experiences, and even culture as they immerse in this virtual society. It is apparent that the physical contact is absent in this kind of transaction but the idea of passing cultural knowledge and traits to other individuals or groups (especially those who are not members of one’s society) thrive and continually occur. The firsthand contact of different people through the Internet, in a way, has bypassed the platform of physical space.

In addition, circulation of digital media suddenly became active because of the Internet. People can watch, share and download films, songs, pictures, and books. Mass-production of digital information is right before our eyes. These are material cultures that carry cultural traits from the society where it has originated.

We should also be aware that Internet is not a homogeneous entity. Inside this cyberspace, are thousands of social clusters with varied interests and goals. This is important because different sections of the Internet also contain different cultural dynamics and rites of passage. Some websites accommodate people who are interested in news, while other are created to facilitate easier philosophical or scientific discussions. Some are developed to archive tons of information (like Wikipedia) while there are also websites that serve as carnal haven for those who consume pornographic video. Websites vary when it comes to cultural structure and their members vary from wide-ranging demography to focused target population. In a way, Internet is composed of virtual social organizations that we can call electronic tribes. Here, people continually reproduce electronic culture, and also inevitably incorporate it in their personal lives.

Final Thoughts…

Internet is making a mark in the human history. Still, I cannot deny the obvious limits of Internet. Behind the mists and magic of the Internet lies an older and stronger order whose relevance remains inescapable. Groups that do not have access to Internet are less affected by what I am calling “digital acculturation”. Sixty-five percent (65%) of the world population still do not have access to Internet. Virtual scoiety, though promises freedom within cyberspace, ironically generates social stratification. However, this does not mean that we should stop using the Internet. On the contrary, I think we are placed in the right position to explore the limitations of this technology. And we are still starting.

Long live the Internet!

Rethinking the Tragedy of the Commons: Revisiting the Dilemma of Global Climate Crisis

In the field economics and ecological studies, there is a remarkably influential parable that illustrates how humanity is bound to face demise due to innate and inflated selfishness. The setting of this story is a shared grassy pasture named the Commons. The villagers’ main livelihood is the grazing of their cows in this field. Since it is a finite space, the Commons can only support as much as a hundred cows. One hundred farmers each bring a single cow, and they all enjoyed the sense of collective spirit. To begin with, the resource is good and free! But each farmer will eventually realize, “If only I can bring another cow. That will instantly double my income and will only place a one percent strain on the Commons. That is a freaking great deal!” However, all villagers will start to bring an extra cow because that is the logical step forward. With this scenario, two hundred cows will overgraze the Commons. The ecological equilibrium of this grassy pasture will suffer. The cows will all die. And the villagers will all starve to death. A pretty dark fairy tale material right there, I guess!

This parable is based on Garrett Hardin’s enduring essay titled “Tragedy of the Common,” published in Science magazine in 1968. The underlying assumption? That we, human beings, are biologically wired to follow our selfish personal interests. It highlights the epitome of individualism by arguing that humans will follow their interests more than common goals. Atlas Shrugged 2.0! And the moral of the narrative? That there is a need to cooperate or everyone loses. In the real world, we can draw parallel situations wherein humans who persevere for the common good are far lesser and lose out in the struggle of existence over the more self-serving ones. This eventually leads to intensive resource over exploitation and the tragedies of failed cooperation.

In the global landscape, the burgeoning climate change, a phenomenon with anthropogenic cause, is heavily attributed to the self-serving decisions of our exploitation-driven global politics (a politico-economy of the wealthy few). Many academic studies already showed that significant increases of potent greenhouse gasses are results of human activity. Ironically, we continue to pump more into the atmosphere. 2016 was the warmest year ever recorded.

As hopeless and cold this story gets, I believe it also needs a critical rereading. So we ask, is it possible to avoid this tragedy? Yes. But first, we need to explicate why Hardin’s position needs a rethink. Despite his erudite reflection on the relationship of human nature and shared-resource system (like the Commons or Earth), Hardin’s vision lacks a sense of human history. His monolith portrayal of people as selfish social creatures definitely lacks our long history of survival due to cooperation and collective struggle. Prior to the emergence of complex societies with clearly-defined social hierarchy, humans followed egalitarian systems wherein consensus and common goals are of great importance. Many hunting-gathering communities, for instance, follow that each hunter’s success belonged to all the group members. The symbol of collectivism is exemplified by the distribution of animal meat after their hunt. Intended or not, this practice allows for an equally distributed resources which leads to a system of social-leveling that eliminates inequality. Many of these hunting-gathering communities existed for more than 80,000 years. And each of the members will acquire a sense of collective responsibility because all of them benefit from it.

In this case, individualism is a relatively new construct vis-à-vis the long history of mankind. To conclude that humans are not capable of producing systems that will redress environmental concerns simply undermines human creativity. In response to Hardin’s perspective, political scientist Elinor Ostrom (a recipient of Nobel Prize in Economic Science for her work on the management of common-pool resources) argued that environmental crisis can be prevented if we learn to self-organize around common interests. Ostrom’s researches on American lobster fisheries, community irrigation schemes in Spain, Nepalese forest management, consistently show that sustainable and productive environment can be achieved by following a combination of principles.

Elinor Ostrom’s Principles for Managing the Commons

  1. Delineate obvious group boundaries.
  2. Match rules main use of general goods to local needs and circumstances.
  3. Guarantee that those affected by the rules can take part in modifying the policies.
  4. Ensure the rule-making privileges of the community members are respected by outside authorities.
  5. Expand a scheme, conceded out by neighbourhood members for monitoring members’ behavior.
  6. Employ graduated sanction for law violators.
  7. Grant available, low-cost means for argument resolutions.
  8. Make accountability for governing the common assets in nested tiers from the least level up to the whole unified system.

Contrary to the general expectation that government authorities and market are the key institutions that can guide common resources, Ostrom asserted that localized systems and rules are actually the most effective answer to the dilemma of environmental crisis. It is the people that should seize self-organization because they best understand their problems, needs, and goals.

Final Thoughts…

Of course, global concerns are far more complicated. But I think it is remarkable that different agreements and protocols to reduce carbon emissions are being pursued up there. More than 80 mega-cities across the globe are already arranging climate action. Recently, 195 countries linked to United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) forwarded Accord de Paris (The Paris Agreement) which hopes to deal with greenhouse gases emissions and to improve community resiliency under climate change.

Surely, the movements and efforts are still developing. It is not perfect, that is for certain. National initiatives and commitment also need to improve to address global climate crisis. But what is fascinating is the progress of environmental consciousness, not only in the global arena but also in the local level. Regional and local efforts show that societies can create systems and mechanisms (which are independent from international agreements) directed to address a globally common issue. And the world is closely watching, now more than ever. After all, the villagers grazing the cows are not as dumb as we expected them to be.

Why Terrorists Exist: It’s Not about Religion and Politics

Some people would say that terrorists are religious nuts. Some even believe that terrorists want to rule the world. Surprisingly, everything about that is false. That’s why it is unfair that certain communities are discriminated just because some of their people resort to terrorism. The real motivation of terrorists may surprise you.

The Study

Jessica Stern is the Pardee School of Global Studies’ research professor. According to Boston University, she managed to study the psyche of a terrorist who is imprisoned in Sweden. In August 2012, her whole probe reached six hours. Turns out, the terrorist’s main drive is not about ethnic beliefs – he just loved to kill people.

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Stern eventually wrote case studies about her encounters with many different terrorists. In April 2014, one of her studies was published in the journal titled “Behavioral Sciences & the Law.” She actually has been focusing on this kind of study for at least 20 years now. She successfully talked with extremist cults in the US, terrorists in Gaza, Lebanon, Indonesia, Pakistan and Israel, and India’s Hindu extremists.

The Reasons

Stern concluded that out of the many causes, drives and motivations she heard from the terrorists she interviewed, none of those exactly fit religion and political views. Some answers were interesting and unexpected.

Violent Household

Terrorists have bad childhood experiences. Some of those cases don’t necessarily refer to violence in the place they grew up in. Some terrorists can still remember clearly how their parents beat them up when they were still kids.

Trauma

Now, here’s where general violence enters the picture. Many terrorists were traumatized as children by the horrors they saw in war-ridden countries. Their trauma develops into activism, and support or tolerance for violence.

Ecstasy

Extremists love the excitement they get in terrorizing people. They love the adrenaline when things get risky.

Peer Pressure

This may sound petty, but some terrorists actually joined extremist groups to follow their friends. Some were probably pressured or blackmailed. Meanwhile, some just didn’t want the idea of ending friendships. Creating violence together seemed like a fun activity for them.

Ideology

Some reasons are close enough to prove that religious differences cause terrorism. But, the root is much deeper than that. Some terrorists want to live in a world where there is only good and evil. They don’t want to deal with people who can be good or bad in some instances, which is a normal thing for humans. Some groups promise that notion using a certain religion. So, they easily gained terrorist recruits.

Source of Income

This is probably the saddest of all. Some terrorists are just plain desperate. In poor countries, terrorism becomes a job.

Revenge

Most terrorists suffered injustice their whole lives. So, to feed themselves with the idea of justice, they terrorize the general population under the regime they loathe.

Humiliation

Stern considered humiliation as the risk factor for terrorists, especially the founders of extremist groups. According to her, one Kashmiri militant founded a terrorist group because he hated how the West overpowered Muslims. But, the hate is not mainly focused on western countries. Terrorists are humiliated that they are part of the world’s minority. In exact words, the terrorist group founder said: “Our ego hurts.”

Final Thoughts

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Interviewing terrorists is definitely not easy, according to Stern. The world-renowned researcher said that she must leave all of her personal opinions about terrorists before interviews. That’s why her research studies are so successful. Stern understood the pain and psyche of terrorists. The worst things they do come from the worst things they have seen and experienced growing up. Understanding terrorists’ motivations, drives and reasons can affect greatly on how to stop terrorism in the long run.