Chapter 2.b

January 18, 2010 — Riccardo Sabellotti - Giacinto Sabellotti

 CULTURAL HISTORY

Let’s look backward once again; if we try to make a historical reconstruction of cultural evolution, as we did for biological evolution, we’ll discover with surprise even greater difficulties, because culture leaves no fossils or genetic trace. To understand how this heritage, so important for our lives, has developed, can help us to understand its nature, its role, its limitations and its potential for the future.

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2.b.1 – What are the origins of culture?

January 19, 2010 — Riccardo Sabellotti - Giacinto Sabellotti

imitazione

What are the origins of culture?

By observing the cultural transmission in animals, we may develop some hypotheses about the birth of our cultural history: we know that animals learn from the world around them, the puppies of mammals also learn from their parents and this can be done because the mother, and sometimes even his father, spend much time with them after birth, for feeding them and protect them. The parent-child relationship, born for protection and nourishment needs, then took an educational role.
It is known that in family traditions, the genetic and cultural heritage evolve together, perfectly integrating; over time this has led to develop a genetic predisposition of puppies to learn from their parents and of parents to teach children.
By the innate curiosity of puppies, by the desire to play (drilling movements, fight  etc..), by the instinct to explore the world and the need to follow their parents in search of safety, new behaviors have developed: exploring the world under the guidance of parents, looking at what they do and then imitate them.
The development of imitation was not a simple step; many animals, even with good learning ability derived from experience, are in great difficulties to imitate the strategies of others, which suggests that imitation is an activities much more complex than it appears and therefore requires the development of new capacity by the brain. Some studies also show that in the animal world, imitation is usually combined with a strong component of personal experimentation, it is imitated the minimum necessary to then proceed alone, which demonstrates how imitation is for animals a very challenging and costly  activity that should be limited as much as possible.
When the first herds of mammals developed, new frontiers for imitation and development of culture opened: since then, in fact, the puppies had the opportunity to learn from all the members of the herd and not just from their parents; this opportunity, which, in most cases, is used only occasionally and is therefore a resource remained marginal in the animal world, lays behind many developments in human culture.
Even in parents some changes developed: to the loving parental care directed to the puppies, new teaching capacities were added; mammals in fact often play with their kids making the game even more instructive; during the game, parents have the opportunity to show, show off indeed, the right attitudes and behavior, as the father playing ball with his children or helping them in the construction of buildings with plastic bricks; should also be reminded the all-important ability to reward or punish those puppies according to their conduct: rewards descended directly from the cuddles of parental care; punishments stem instead from aggressive attitudes, typical of fights between adults, appropriately and substantially modified in order not to seriously injure the children.
For what concerns monkeys, the babies live the first part of their lives perpetually clinging to their mothers; during this phase with a so intimate and fixed contact, the puppies can learn many things: how to interpret the behavior of the mother and of the members of the flock, how to manage public relations and coexistence in the community, what are the best fruits, how to build a shelter, how to use certain tools, how to recognize and produce signals typical of their species, up to use a real language made of gestures and sounds, although not articulated in such a way as to form a complex speech.
The animals that show more ability to imitate, more communication skills and greater intelligence, such as parrots, dolphins and monkeys, are all social animals, and this indicates that the social and flock life are important and necessary, although not sufficient, for the development of the above mentioned abilities. These abilities are also closely linked: in community, communication is often achieved through a conventional code, culturally transmitted, which requires some form of imitation and intelligence.
By observing today’s world, we can’t see the later stages of our cultural history as all our closest relatives, the hominids, are extinct long ago.  

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2.b.2 – What has changed moving from animal to human culture?

January 20, 2010 — Riccardo Sabellotti - Giacinto Sabellotti

espressione

What has changed moving from animal to human culture?

Even if we are unable to accurately reconstruct the evolutionary steps of human culture in the prehistoric era, it is of paramount importance to reflect on cultural peculiarities that distinguish us from the animals, with particular reference to our closest cousins, namely the monkeys:
–  innovations in human culture easily accumulate; for example, the first light bulb was the fruit of the genius of Edison, but also of those who invented and perfected the working of glass and metal, and those who discovered electricity; all this knowledge, accumulating, have allowed Edison to create his most famous invention. A specific and fundamental aspect of human culture is of being a cumulative culture; in animals this phenomenon is an unknown or exceptional event;
– in man, the physical development of children is much slower and this requires the parents to take care of them for many years; during this long period, however, children have the time to learn the great and complex cultural heritage accumulated by their community; for teaching is also used specialized personnel outside the family;
– human communities are much more numerous than those of monkeys and in these we find numerous forms of cultural specializations that form a very complex system based on collaborative work;
– the social structure of human group is very different from that of monkeys; this is not one big family, but a cluster of small nuclei, usually made up of one male and one female with limited number of children .
– an important aspect of human culture is the creation of sophisticated instruments in constant change; it is to be reminded that this is possible thanks to the ability to manipulation;
– a considerable part of human culture is made up of abstract concepts such as numbers, honor, justice and responsibility;
– human beings communicate with words; language is the main transmission channel with which the human cultural heritage, made of complex and abstract concepts, is transmitted;
– another form of particularly developed communication is the one based on facial gestures; the human face has been modified to be used as a reporting tool: the human eyes show the whites around the iris and this allows to follow the look and nuances of expressions also at a considerable distance; the eyebrows, thick and isolated on the skin without hair, are used as a visual warning sign in a thousand expressions; the same goes for the lips that have a border and a clearly marked color and can enhance their every little movement .
Currently no evolutionary needs that have caused these changes are known, we can only make conjectures on the basis of the use currently done, or done in the recent past, of these innovations.

 

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2.b.3 – Which culture had the first hominids?

January 21, 2010 — Riccardo Sabellotti - Giacinto Sabellotti

savana

Which culture had the first hominids?

 A complex social structure usually corresponds to some forms of complex communication and these in turn stimulate the development of capacity for imitation and intelligence. Also in equal number, a small human community appears more complex, socially speaking, than a flock of monkeys: indeed, it is formed by several separate families, the leader of the pack does not coincide anymore with the head of the family; males and females form fixed pairs and cooperate in parental care during the long childhood of their children; dominant males, both while maintaining a certain rivalry, regularly cooperate with each other in various activities such as hunting or work. During the evolution of hominids, occurred then a genuine social revolution.
The oldest fossil remains of hominids indicate that their development could have separated from that of apes after a radical climate change in the Rift Valley in Africa; from a forest of tropical type, a savannah was formed and, despite the presence in that area of some large lakes, which attenuated the problem of drought, a food change and therefore a change in behavior was inevitable, and the presence of lakes in a region relatively poor of water could also have led families of hominids to concentrate around them, but this forced cohabitation may have caused a lesser availability of food and originated a subsequent reduction in the size of families and a cooperation among them to better exploit the available resources, starting with the group hunting. By observing their teeth, we can deduce that they were omnivores and then managed to eat everything, while the discovery of splintered stone tools, dating back to their age, confirms the hypothesis of their attitude to the use of instruments; anyway, we know nothing about their hunting techniques or their social structure; we can, as above, only make fantastic assumptions, but at present not verifiable.
The use of simple stone tools is also attributed to the homo habilis, whose oldest remains date back to almost two million years ago and who represents one of the first hominids of the kind homo. From the shape of the skull, we can deduce that his brain was greater than that of australopithecus and that, perhaps, he already had some brain areas dedicated to language. If we accept the idea that intelligence and language are linked to cooperation and to a complex social structure, it is plausible that the homo habilis made group hunting and lived in a typically human multi families community; once again, these are all hypotheses to be verified.
By the fossil remains we know that the two other human species, slightly more recent, the homo ergaster and the homo erectus, had both developed various anatomical adaptations for running: longer legs and Achilles tendons, an appropriate plantar arch, a bigger heel and a nape crest for the stability of the skull during the race. Their stone tools are more refined, thanks to a long and challenging process and it also seems that the homo erectus could control the fire. Their brain was much larger and their face was much more similar to that of present man, having lost many of the monkey like features. It has been also possible to establish that the development of children In the homo erectus was much slower compared to australopithecus, although faster than it is now. All these data suggest that many of the social cultural changes that we mentioned have been historically verified between the first hominids and the homo erectus; this latter  had already the physic and tools to be a good group hunter; the length of childhood and the size and shape of his brain suggest that he had a significant cultural heritage to learn and a complex social life to manage; the bone structure of his face, similar to ours, suggests that he also had a similar facial expression and this would be a further confirmation of very complex social relations. In addition to group hunting, also the need to defend the territory by rival groups may have fed the need for greater collaboration within the group.
In the homo erectus there is also another feature in common with the current man: its geographical distribution, which spreads from Africa to China while, as we know, the previous hominids lived in regions much more limited, like the current apes; even this can be considered a confirmation of the high level of efficiency of these ancient human societies. The close cooperation that should have existed within these tribal groups made more useful and easier the spreading of culture within the community and from this basis developed the type of culture that we consider today as typically human.

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2.b.4 – The development of cumulative culture is due to climate instability?

January 22, 2010 — Riccardo Sabellotti - Giacinto Sabellotti

ghiacci

The development of cumulative culture is due to climate instability?

Dated about 500 thousand years ago, we can find the first traces of tools much more complex of precedents, as consisting of several parts (like spears having the tip of stone or axes with an handle); these tools are also different according to the region and the time when they were produced and this shows that they were the result of a succession of changes made by different artisans. The accumulation of cultural mutations, a phenomenon first absent or exceptional, from then seems to become a fixed rule in human culture.
It  is ignored the cause of this very important change, but we know that hominids of this period show a further development of brain mass and changes at the base of the skull, making plausible a shift of the larynx and a modification of the voice.
 By an examination of the polar ice, it is also apparent with certainty that this historical period was characterized by great instability in the climate; relatively rapid changes alternated glacial to temperate periods and even within these periods there were great fluctuations in the average temperature; these sudden changes in the climate may have been a decisive impulse to fully exploit the cultural adaptability, much faster than genetic.
We can, however, note three important features of cumulative culture:
– it allows a more convenient and quick cultural adaptation, because changing existing instruments and customs is easier than creating new ones;
– the combination of simple cultural elements can form a wide variety of new solutions to new problems, just like the letters of the alphabet can compose a huge number of words, the evolutionary advantage is huge and brings cultural heritage to become, from a simple integration of the genetic heritage, the basis of later evolution;
– cumulative cultural innovations depend less and less by genetic mutations and increasingly from the accumulated previous cultural history; there is a tendency to greater autonomy compared to genetic heritage.
All this also had a cost: from the study of the bones we know that in the considered historical period, the time needed to reach maturity further lengthened to reach, with the Neanderthal man and today man, twenty years or so. This long period of apprenticeship requires to parents a greater sacrifice in terms of time and energy.

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2.b.5 – The rituals and words are cultural instruments?

January 23, 2010 — Riccardo Sabellotti - Giacinto Sabellotti

rituali

The rituals and words are cultural instruments?

The growing importance of transmission of knowledge has stimulated the development of two key instruments: the rituals and verbal language.
The anthropologists of the ninetieth and twentieth century have conducted numerous studies on oldest human communities, namely those with an economy still based on hunting and gathering of fruits as the tribes of North America, of the Amazon rainforest, Indonesia and Australia. It was noted that a common feature of these cultures was the organization of celebrations rituals which involved the whole community; although every people has its own particular way of celebrating religious festivals or ceremonies, all of them they did it with a huge variety of rituals, prayers, dances, songs, banquets and sports competitions.
Modern psychology tells us that these rituals strengthen the group identity and help to develop solidarity, cooperation and administration of social life. Their importance is such that often they take on a sacred character.
Many rituals require considerable talents of cohesion, imitation and learning skills that we know essential to life of human beings; for example, the group dances can show these qualities together with other physical qualities like strength and agility. Besides being entertaining shows, useful to strengthen social relationships, often play a role in courtship.
The ritual involving the whole community have mainly a social role and are precisely called social rituals, but in any human activity we can find some little rituals that we can call working procedures: a chef who prepares a plate of spaghetti, according to a precise recipe, repeats basically the same proceeding, i.e. makes a kind of ritual work; the same would do the masons to build a wall or peasants to cultivate corn or harvesting olives. These activities are mainly handed down through direct imitation, exactly like the social rituals; the language holds a secondary role like in all activities based on movement: we all had the experience to find ourselves in difficulty with written instructions to install a new television or other electrical appliance and we all know that the instructions are clearer if accompanied by illustrative drawings in which a balloon shows us how to do things, although a person would be even better.
The verbal language, instead, becomes the main instrument when it is necessary to recount experiences or past events, or when you need to pass abstract concepts. The appearance of the word marked a milestone in culture: experience could now be told and not only displayed, with the word we can express abstract concepts, ideas, opinions; thanks to word, the movement of ideas was much easier and culture had a new instrument, extremely precise, transmitted and preserved.
The current language is another typical example of cumulative culture: it continuously varies from region to region and from generation to generation. It should be remembered that even in the animal world, particularly in monkeys, there are social rituals, voice signals and tool-making and certainly existed even in the most ancient of hominids; cumulative culture has only led to a further development, both cultural (variety of forms and applications) and genetic (changes of the voice apparatus, logical and imitation capabilities).

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2.b.6 – What forms of culture have left a tangible track?

January 24, 2010 — Riccardo Sabellotti - Giacinto Sabellotti

preistoria

What forms of culture have left a tangible track?

Unlike the rituals and verbal language, there are forms of cumulative culture that have left a trace: one of them is the production of tools, in which it is possible to observe a gradual evolution; another one is the art, such as painting and sculpture. In tribal cultures it is documented a significant artistic activity: tattoos, body paint, drawings on skin or tents, bracelets, necklaces and various ornaments up to statues in stone, wood, horn, bone and so on. Each tribe has its typical signs and objects that acquire the symbolic value of belonging to the same tribe.
The use of symbols to show the membership to a clan, a family, a caste or a particular social group is very common in many cultures as well as religious symbols are common in ceremonial functions; it is a veritable language made of symbols: the wedding ring indicates that a person is married, the priest during the religious ceremony wears particular cloths, at funerals people wear blacks clothes, the crown and scepter of the King show his kingship and so on. In all human cultures we find this kind of symbolic language that has ancient origins. Particularly interesting is the use of painted or carved symbols that may have given rise to forms of art that today we call painting and sculpture. The remains of the oldest painting and sculpture are from Africa and date back to about 70 thousand years ago, but also considering modern times, tribal art makes a moderate use of stone, it is reasonable to suppose that the ancient painters and sculptors used perishable materials also in much earlier times. The art of painting and symbolic drawing are the basis on which, long time later, writing developed.

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2.b.7 – What distinguishes us from the first homo sapiens?

January 25, 2010 — Riccardo Sabellotti - Giacinto Sabellotti

dubbio

 
 
 

What distinguishes us from the first homo sapiens?

The oldest remains found of homo sapiens date back to 195 thousand years ago; since then our skeleton has not substantially changed, but this not applies also to the rest of our anatomy and, in particular, possible changes in our intellectual capacity would be very difficult detectable by the shape of the skull. Considering that our species has begun to spread out from Africa about 125 thousand years ago, one can deduce that the current ethnic differences should have been necessarily formed after that time. Since these differences can be observed in facial features, hair color or stature but not in the intellectual capacity, we can say that this latter had already been developed before the migration in the continents. Given that every human generation feels much more intelligent than previous ones, starting with that of their parents, it is difficult to imagine ourselves sitting on a bench in our jacket and tie, with a mobile phone in our hand, aside of a homo sapiens of 125 thousand years ago in wolf skin, with a cudgel in his hand and being convinced he has a brain with the same genetic ability; the truth is that differences are only the result of cultural evolution, of that cumulative culture that distinguishes our species and that, increasingly quickly developing, can now really lead to a significant differentiation between two successive generations.

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2.b.8 – War is a prerogative of human culture?

January 26, 2010 — Riccardo Sabellotti - Giacinto Sabellotti

War is a prerogative of human culture?

A very old phenomenon in human cultural history is war. War requires great organization, cohesion and group identity and the studies on people that in the past two centuries were still living by hunting and gathering, show that in all of them there was the cycle use of war to settle territorial disputes (even four times in one year).
This war activity is different among the apes, where fights between groups are exceptional, unlike those between individual dominant males; war seems therefore to be a typical human need. In nature the animal populations remain stable, despite the large number of children, because of predators, diseases, accidents, drought, cold and hunger; being killed by his own kind is a rather rare event, however, becomes more common in artificial conditions of overpopulation as may happen in the zoo.
In humans, the development of the war conduct is due in all probability to the lesser impact of the so called stabilization factors, the resulting increase in population and the subsequent decrease in the availability of food that inevitably leads to an increase of territorial conflicts.
In the animal world two basic types of struggle can be observed:
– struggle between predators and prey, whose purpose is to kill or be killed; this is the most violent form of struggle for survival;
– fight between rivals; the most classic case is that of males who fight for the possession of females, which aim is not the death but the submission of one’s opponent (which could also be a member of his flock and perhaps a close relative).
In the first form, a predator, if he wants to eat, can’t avoid killing the prey and for the prey, on the other hand, no defense is too risky, considering the danger; in the second form of struggle, instead, killing one’s opponent is not only not necessary, but if he is a member of the same group it would be even harmful; it is also clear that, even for the loser, it is convenient to retreat before getting really hurt or risk being killed.
The teaching that once again we must draw from nature is the following: in the fight between rivals the clash, even violent, is a test of strength, not an attack to the other’s life, who usually comes out a little hurt, but alive. Moreover it is to be noted that in nature often there are precise rituals, according to which it is avoided, when possible, physical confrontation.
In human communities of all types, including tribal, we find these two forms of struggle: the prey is killed without mercy as all predators do, and their spoils are divided among the hunters and their families, while within the community there are also clashes, even very violent, but governed by specific rituals, in which it is avoided to kill the enemy.
If we now consider a war, it is evident that the two sides do not fight as rivals in love or opponents in sports, but as if belonged to different species; in war you fight to kill or you will be inevitably killed. The cannibal people even ate their defeated opponents, dividing the remains as it is used with the animal preys; in less extreme cases, the defeated were still stripped of clothes, weapons and anything that could have a value; the same predatory attitude is found then during the looting of villages or cities enemy.
So many are the attitudes that indicate that the relationship with the enemy is man-animal type (meaning for animal both a prey and a predator) and not man-man.
Continuing to demonstrate how war is a typically human phenomenon, where it is possible to see all the cultural and evolutionary strategies, a problem arises: how is it possible that the man, selected by millions of years of natural evolution for a sociable living in the community, has fought and continues to fight many bloody fratricidal wars? The answer must be sought in the nature of human culture and in the different ways in which it is expressed. To drag a nation at war it is needed to develop a system that inhibits his natural social instincts; the simplest system, that has always been practiced, is to identify enemies with animals of a different species, or with dangerous animals anyway. For this purpose are utilized all possible cultural variations: the enemies are not like us, in fact they speak a different language, have a different color, wear a different dress, practice a different religion, and so on; and hence, it becomes of fundamental importance the exaltation of what can be used for the identification with group: for this reason each tribe soon develops a particular accent, its colors of war (or a currency), its religious symbols, its special hairstyle, its characteristic tattoos etc.., people who have not these signs of recognition are considered as animals to be killed.
War exploits all the basic strategies of man: the organization and harmony of the community are essential elements for any war activity, the specialization of some members of the community as warriors is also necessary, as it is the manipulation aimed at achieving increasingly powerful weapons.
The cumulative culture has always given his contribution to the war: over time, the communities have grown in size and soon formed alliances between different communities; within the specialized community of warriors have formed increasingly specific subgroups (archers, knights, artillery etc.); in the case of arms, the contribution of cumulative culture is even more evident, as in short relatively time they passed from  the sword to the atomic bomb.
The discovery of remains of Neanderthal men with the tip of spear stuck in the skeleton suggests how the war has accompanied and influenced the cultural evolution of man.

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2.b.9 – Agriculture and livestock: two milestones?

January 27, 2010 — Riccardo Sabellotti - Giacinto Sabellotti

aratura

Agriculture and livestock: two milestones?

About 12 thousand years ago, the last ice age ended; today we know that, until then, deep and abrupt climate changes were the rule and that the living beings, including humans, had always been accustomed to it; the period of stability which followed the last glaciation, and which still continues, is therefore a short and exceptionally quiet parentheses in the long history as turbulent climate history. The climate became warmer, more rainy and with fewer differences of temperature between winter and summer. The distribution of vegetation and wildlife changed accordingly, the ice disappeared from temperate areas and these radically changed their appearance; this gave to all men and animals new opportunities of nourishment. Our species had long been widespread throughout the planet, but never before that time there was such a regular availability of plants and herbivore animals.
It is very likely that the new situation led to an increase in population, until it reached a new equilibrium: quantity of food per capita equal to the time of glaciation, but with smaller spaces available. Then there were two possible routes to go to improve the living conditions: either to extend the territory with the war or to use more effectively the new wealth available, taking maximum advantage from the stability of climate: both ways were followed.
Looking at modern tribal societies, especially those of rainforests, less affected by the end of the ice age, we can assume that hunters always protected the game of their territory from other predators, including hunters of other tribes who trespassed their territory, and always practicing forms of aid to edible plants against so-called weeds. From these bases developed, in various tempered places in the world, the first forms of farming and agriculture.
It is plausible that the ancient tribe of hunters, linked by bonds of kinship or derived from the same tribe of origin, had agreements of mutual aid in times of famine or war, which led to the division of the game and to formation of joint armies, just as happens among modern tribes; from these customs developed the large armies of the great agricultural civilizations.
The development of agriculture and livestock led to a radical change in human society, only comparable to the descent from the trees of the first hominids; the availability of food increased considerably, especially when cultivation of cereals like wheat, barley, rice started: these plants, in fact, produce very nutrients seeds that can be stored for years and therefore, cultivated in large-scale, allowed to accumulate large reserves of plant food. Similarly breeding cattle allowed to rely on a continuous source of animal resources and strengthen the culture of stocks; having available stocks have meant the possibility to conduct a sedentary life: this led to the formation of the first urban centers. The fields, cultivated using increasingly accurate techniques, produced much more than was necessary to maintenance of farmers who cultivated them, and the same happened with the big herds of livestock; this revolutionary situation led to the development of savings culture, which allows to utilize at a later time not consumed resources, and allowed people not only to grow but to be able to devote themselves full time to other activities, specializing in various forms of crafts; there had been then primarily carpenters, blacksmiths, potters and weavers, to whom soon traders added.
In the tribal community there was a clear separation of duties only between males and females, with men dedicated to group hunting, to war and to works connected with these activities, like the construction of weapons, while women were dedicated to gathering plant food and caring for children. In the new urban areas developed rather different tasks and knowledge, not only on the basis of sex, but also on the type of work. From small villages of hunters with 60 or 70 individuals, people passed to cities of 7,000 inhabitants.

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2.b.10 – What role has the trade in cultural development?

January 28, 2010 — Riccardo Sabellotti - Giacinto Sabellotti

merci

What role has the trade in cultural development?

The great variety of agricultural products, livestock and crafts led to an exchange of goods within the community and favored it outside the community; the category of full-time traders was then formed.
The trade consists in an exchange of goods, that in its first applications took the form of barter, namely the exchange of goods one wants to give to someone else who wants to buy; goods to be sold were initially plants, animals or craft that exceeded their consumption requirements or in stock and then the first barters were done among producers. The limits of this type of barter are immediately obvious, as circumscribes the possibility of exchange to what was offered by the communities one belonged to or those nearby, but soon the figure of the merchant appeared, i.e. one person who bartered with others goods which he did not personally need, but intended to exchange in more remote communities where these goods, as deficient, assumed greater value. In the barter, the value of the property to be exchanged is considered equivalent by the parties on the basis of quantitative and qualitative considerations on the properties in question; these considerations are of course influenced by the need that someone has of these goods and by the difficulties one encounters in obtaining them.
Even in indirect ways, namely through traders, however, the barter presents some major limitations: the perishable goods such as food must be consumed in short time and then not be the subject of numerous later trades; other goods, such as live cattle, are indivisible and must therefore be shared with amount of other goods higher than what is necessary (forcing the person who gave these goods to further exchanges of what obtained in exchange). The barter can therefore be applied only in simple economies and a restricted basis.
The new economic environment that had formed, which is based on trade, obviously caused some adaptations by man, who made more usable the related opportunities and, in particular, we must remember the invention of the coin, that is an object that at the same time has both the role function of quantification of value and to be a medium of exchange, a medium that could be also accumulated without problems of perishability, space and divisibility.
The development of intense commercial traffic resulting in the advent of currency led to further economic development: every city, to import products typical of another, had to exchange them with their own, making beneficial the increase of production, otherwise useless, and increasing the wealth of communities; this phenomenon also brought to the interdependence of cities, first economically and then politically, encouraging alliances, mergers or invasions.
Through peaceful alliances or violent conquests, starting from 6 thousand years ago, large human communities formed on a large territorial scale, i.e. the great empires of ancient civilizations: the Egyptians, the Sumerians, the Assyrians, the Babylonians, the Persians, Romans and Chinese; all these civilizations are distinguished for their wealth fueled by prosperous trading, to promote which large networks of communications and transport were built: roads, bridges, ships, canals, lighthouses and even postal services. The larger cities such as Rome or Carthage had more than 700 thousand inhabitants and the population growth, combined to the need to distribute a large amount and variety of goods, explains the growth of difficulties in administering these cities.

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2.b.11 – Writing has allowed a leap in quality?

January 29, 2010 — Riccardo Sabellotti - Giacinto Sabellotti

ideogrammi

Writing has allowed a leap in quality?

Among the first forms of writing, it is important to remind the pictographies, i.e. the systems of representing by a drawing more or less stylized what we want to communicate. For being effective, pictographic writing needs that the context and materials objects to which they relate images are known (a man running below an arrow is not synonymous with emergency exit for everyone and everywhere), but when this happens, the understanding is immediate and goes over the problem of diversity of languages (think of the signs used in railway stations, in stadiums etc.).
The oldest traces of writing date back over 6,000 years ago; it seems that the transition from a symbolic language based on drawings to the designs of representing words is due to the need to make accounts for the trade or other bureaucratic needs typical of large agricultural town. As a complex social life has helped the development of articulate speech, an intricate bureaucracy has required the development of a language of symbols equally efficient than the words.
Writing was therefore a necessary tool for archiving accounting data related to the inventory of stocks, the taxes collection and commercial transactions , but was then used for other purposes such as witnessing the strength and power of kings; this happened with public and solemn records, made so that the shape, materials and the size could be preserved over time, as a perennial symbol of the power which they came from (think of the inscriptions on the gates of the towns or to the celebratory wordings on monuments or on facades).
Over time, to the original records made of images, in which every symbol was a word and where the signs had an essentially mnemonic function, were added the phonetic writing, that writing systems that mirrored the spoken language. The phonetic writing has allowed the creation of a system made of a few signs, but that could be put together in countless combinations: the alphabet.
The latter, being much easier to learn and to manage, was also essential for the development of printing in much more recent times.
Writing allows to set the words on a material support, which becomes so an expansion of human memory that can store words, thoughts and knowledge for centuries. By writing, the human cultural heritage can be deposited in a more reliable safe than the mortal and sometimes inaccurate human memory. Writing made thus human culture even easier to be stored, so that the experience of an individual could overcome the limits of his personal life.
We said that the reconstruction of cultural history is difficult and imprecise because culture leaves no fossils or genetic trace, but this is true until the invention of writing; with the discovery of the oldest written texts, our knowledge of the past takes a huge leap in quality: writing marks the transition from prehistory to history.
The symbolic written language had in the same period a second major evolutionary branch; the development of mathematical symbols: basically it’s always a form of writing, not representing words but abstract concepts of measuring and quantity of objects: the numbers. So we must recognize to writing the credit for having permitted the development of the fundamental operations of calculating (that can’t be developed beyond a certain complexity without a written support). The writing also allows the construction of tables with two or more columns, i.e. the formation of a visual scheme that cannot be done verbally.
The possible applications in commerce and administration are easy to imagine and still in use, but there is an application even more closely linked to agriculture: the measurement of fields that led to the development of geometry in ancient Egypt; in Egypt, after each flooding of the Nile, since all borders were deleted, it was necessary to  redesign them and this environmental peculiarity made the Egyptians masters in geometry and mathematics.
Currently, the ability to write is not only widespread, but it is always more frequently common to write with machines, the advent of computers, with their countless fonts, with the different formatting of the pages and even the possibility of spelling and grammatical corrections, automatically makes it difficult to conceive how much effort has cost the implementation and development of writing, but according to a  ancient Persian Treaty, the calligrapher must have a delicate hand, acute eye-sighted spirit, refined senses, a pure soul and a superior intellect. In ancient times the writing was anything but a normal phenomenon: it was so exceptional in its conception, implementation and enforcement that people could not avoid to give divine origins to it. On the other hand, also in previous eras men have been seeking directions from Gods in particular signs (a special position of bones, a sequence of pebbles, etc.) and then the divination of writing, as well as its highest form, the sacred books, was a natural phenomenon.

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2.b.12 – The development of the sciences is due to specialization?

January 30, 2010 — Riccardo Sabellotti - Giacinto Sabellotti

numeri

The development of the sciences is due to specialization?

The proliferation of so many different activities, each with its unique knowledge, led to the formation of a huge development of technical knowledge; to new problems and
new needs that were facing agricultural civilization, cultural adaptation replied with specializations and cultural development of the sciences. In particular, it is to be reminded important progress on:
– Math: for the accountancy of trade and governments, and the calculations of geometry and astronomy;
– Geometry for the division and irrigation of fields, for architecture and astronomy;
– Hydraulics: to irrigate the fields, for the aqueducts for supplying the large cities, up to the famous hanging gardens of Babylon;
– Architecture for the construction of monumental temples capable of receiving and striking the imagination of large numbers of citizens, for building roads and bridges for trades;
– Mechanics: as support to architecture, to move large weights during the monumental buildings like the pyramids of Egypt and, later, for building war machines such as catapults;
– Nautical engineering: for the great merchant ships;
– Astronomy: for the measurement of time and seasons and for guidance in the sea.
The development of knowledge in all these historical era, after the advent of writing, was such to arise the question of how to order and catalog them; the technical wonders aroused admiration even among the common people and often philosophers and scientists were held in high regard by the whole community.
The progress of science and technology of a people was as fast as this was rich, being able to maintain more scholars. A contribution was also crucial from the commercial economy, which, in addition to goods, allowed to import even the knowledge of other ancient civilizations, allowing to catch up or at least not having to start from scratch in every field. Progress was also proceeding as long as its civilization could survive the competition and the invasions of neighboring peoples; the richer and more long lasting civilizations then reached the higher levels of science and it is an example the classical Greece that with Pythagoras and Archimedes brought mathematics to levels never seen in Europe until then. To remember also Heron of Alexandria at the time of Imperial Rome and Leonardo da Vinci in Renaissance as top representatives of engineering of their time and finally Pythagoras, Democritus, Aristotle, Galileo Galilei and Isaac Newton as the most famous theorists, whose works led to the gradual creation of the scientific experimental method currently used, which allows to study the natural laws with a precision and accuracy comparable to those of mathematics, marking the end of philosophy of nature and the beginning of experimental science which, not having more rivals, today we call simply science. Finally we must mention, for later cultural development, the invention of printing mobile characters of  Gutenberg, which allowed a huge increase in production of books and then the distribution and conservation of culture; the invention of printing, from this point of view, is second only to that the writing itself.

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2.b.13 – Slavery is similar to rearing?

January 31, 2010 — Riccardo Sabellotti - Giacinto Sabellotti

schiavo

Slavery is similar to rearing?

With the emergence of farming, a new type of relationship developed between man and animals: from man-prey, we passed to the men and livestock relationship. In rearing, the animals are forced to a cohabitation with the man in which they lose any chance of escape; they are fed by their breeders, but it is a benefits paid a high price (the possibility of escape); is not therefore appropriate to talk about symbiosis with mutual benefit because the animals do not increase the chances of survival. Often the livestock is made up of social animals such as sheep or horses, that normally live in a pack led by a chief but now are led by farmers, are then replaced the chief. The reared animals are a valuable asset and are treated as objects of value, are bought and sold as such and are often marked indelibly in order to certify the property title.
The animals bred are not only preys without hope: after the appearance of agriculture they were in fact used as pack animals, giving a fundamental contribution to its development. We have seen how men, to start a war between them, need to identify the enemy as an animal of a different species and then, in case of capture of an enemy, it was natural to use it as animal for work. In slavery, the man-slave relation has the same characteristics that we have noted in the animal breeding: slaves were prisoners of war or their descendants, were not free to leave and remained perennially prisoners of their masters, could be bought and sold, in certain cultures were also marked with fire; the slaves worked in the fields like animals like donkeys, oxen and horses.
We know that even in tribal societies, the enemies in war, or potential enemies, as belonging to historically hostile tribes, were always considered and treated like animals, but that type of societies could not maintain a large number of slaves and a prisoner was more likely to be sent to the pile of torture rather than becoming a slave, although occasionally it was possible. In the agricultural era, instead, there were the resources to feed a large population of slaves, which was very useful for the hard work the fields, and therefore prisoners of war became a precious commodity as working animals. The slaves were not properly therefore the lowest rung in the hierarchy of society, but were livestock outside of it. In a hierarchy, either human or animals, it is possible to change the level going up or down, or it is possible to remove one from his position or to be removed, but to slaves this certainly was not granted as it was not for any reared animal. In a city then it was possible to find two well distinct human populations: the dominant one with its internal hierarchy and that of slaves to which it was not even granted a hierarchy because if they would have had their social organization, they could use it to rebel, and the maximum to which a slave could aspire was to form his own family, but more numerous social aggregations were out of the question.
In this farming era therefore social classes were born, or populations clearly separated without the possibility of switching from one to another. Throughout history, with a similar process often formed societies with three classes: the noble (dominant class), the people (dominated class), slaves (working animals, living robots). Indeed a population of nomadic raiders could plunder a city and capture slaves and then sell them, but they found more practical to expect a regular tribute in exchange for peace and perhaps for protection from other predators. Appeared then another relationship of parasite-host type in which the dominant population did not enslave the subjected one, but simply replacing the dominant group whose role now was reserved to the new rulers who formed a separate class (the noble). The profound difference compared to slavery is that the dominated were not bought and sold and did not completely lose their social structure, their hierarchy was anyway beheaded. This social structure has spread and strengthened during the millennia until a new phenomenon brought about a profound change: the Industrial revolution.

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2.b.14 – How did we arrive to industrial revolution?

February 1, 2010 — Riccardo Sabellotti - Giacinto Sabellotti

fabbrica

How did we arrive to industrial revolution?

The agricultural revolution was developed following the end of glaciation, i.e. a climate change: the industrial revolution took place instead following a set of propitious historical, political and economic circumstances; there was no change in the climate or in the ecosystem, but a normal evolution of human society; the conditions that led to the industrial revolution have been, after all, a product of human culture.
In 1700 A.C. the British Empire, the greatest of all time, was in full expansion and its trade routes reached every continent; England was powerful, rich and a huge quantity of goods poured into its cities. This situation had already occurred several times with other empires such as Mongolian, Roman or Persian, but now the empire territories were made of colonies mainly situated in the wild territories, where the agricultural civilization was uncommon or absent; it followed that large quantities of raw materials were mainly imported from these territories, that were then worked at the home country; the finished product could then be sold throughout the great European market. Previously, in the Roman Empire, there was already a commercial network extended throughout Europe, Roma was very rich, but had no reason to import only raw materials, or to work them to sell them to the rest of the Empire. The colonial economy , both English and European, had a productive system dramatically different than in the past: European states, particularly the small and powerful England, were the centers for the processing of goods imported and exported worldwide.
It is important to note that the materials were not only worked for meeting local needs, but also those of the entire European market and of the same colonies; to carry out this huge amount of work required changes in the working organization: from small groups of artisans. larger assemblies of workers followed, working in vast farmhouses called factories, within which there were one or more workers doing a single stage of processing and only one, and then pass the product to another group for the next step: this way, series production was born.
It is likely that this technique is not entirely new, but was never applied on such a large scale; working in series gave the possibility to produce on equal time, a much higher number of pieces than the artisans could; in previous times, in the limited local market, this whole production would remain unsold.

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2.b.15 – What are the main consequences of the industrial revolution?

February 2, 2010 — Riccardo Sabellotti - Giacinto Sabellotti

locomotiva

What are the main consequences of the industrial revolution?

The emergence and spread of the model of production in series (or industrial) caused deep economic, social, technical and scientific changes, some exceptionally positive, some tragically negative:
– series production led to lower production costs and therefore, to an equal sale price of the product, a very high profit was obtained by the industrial entrepreneur; industry proved to be a highly profitable activity and soon a fierce competition developed;
– one of the strategies adopted to defeat the competition was to lower the cost of the product; those who adopted this strategy, not only survived the competition, but triggered a virtuous circle in which the price fell, increasing the number of clients who could afford to buy; the turnover increased, profits for the same number of workers increased, the possibility of still reducing costs increased. Selling to the masses as well as to the rich became a very good business;
– to lower the costs, a portion of the profit could be waived on each item sold, it could be reduced the wages of the workers, it could be decrease the number of workers, buying more modern machines and the market and production could be broadened without increasing the fixed costs; all these techniques were adopted with mathematical precision and efficiency;
– the general lowering of prices on industrial products made them accessible to large masses of the population that previously were not able to buy them, increasing then the purchasing power and average wealth for large sections of the population;
– fierce competition in industrial production quickly took the place of craft production in many sectors such as textiles and metallurgy. The craftsmen, remained without work, had to be converted into low-cost laborers;
– to reduce the cost of the product is sought to reduce the maximum salary of workers to reach the minimum necessary for survival, condemning them to an extreme poverty, while the rest of the world was becoming richer thanks to them;
– large profits allowed big investments, especially in buying large industrial machinery, designed to have an increasingly high efficiency and require a small number of expensive workers; therefore, in time workers passed from poverty to unemployment and extreme poverty;
– investing in machines proved to be very beneficial to industrial entrepreneurs, but for engineers and scientists as well, who saw their profits and their prestige increased. The result was a scientific and technological development never had before: sometimes, after only few years, the machines appeared to have become obsolete, especially those utilizing the steam power, that gave a great contribution to industrial production; various branches of the science, having industrial applications such as chemistry, mechanics, thermodynamics (for steam engines and then motors) developed, but also sectors not directly involved could take advantage of this moment of grace enjoyed by sciences such as medicine, biology and electrotechnique.

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2.b.16 – What were the technological and economic fallout in other areas?

February 3, 2010 — Riccardo Sabellotti - Giacinto Sabellotti

telegrafo

What were the technological and economic fallout in other areas?

The industrial revolution caused an unprecedented economic expansion that involved all components of society and all sectors of production; in particular, it was strongly encouraged the commercial sector, both by sea and by land, making very appropriate the introduction of steamboats and trains; using new technologies, during the nineteenth century, increasingly large and stable ships were built and a railway network extended throughout Europe and the United States of America. The technological revolution in transport continued in the 1900 with the spread of cars and motorized vehicles in general and with the invention of the airplane.
A similar development there have been in the communications sector: first postal services improved, thanks to new motorized transports, then with the telegraph in 1844 began the era of telecommunications that continued in 1860 with the phone and in 1897 with the radio. These instruments were based on a completely new use of electricity that now was used to send signals; this new technology today is called electronic and led, in 1925, to the first experimental model of TV.
Profound changes also affected the traditional agricultural sector, where machines increasingly sophisticated and efficient were introduced, as well as fertilizer and chemical pesticides for industrial products.
The new industrial power and the wider scientific and technological knowledge inevitably led to the production of increasingly deadly weapons and increasingly bloody wars, fought also competing for the colonial territories that, as we have seen, represented a source and a market for the industrial production. Even the war needs, as well as industrial exigencies, gave a big boost to research and science; many inventions, made possible by largely financed military purposes, then had wide diffusion and application in civil context as reaction aircraft, in the GPS and in the internet.
The expansion of typically industrial technology, outside factories influenced the lives of ordinary people even in their free time: in big cities of the nineteenth century, it was possible to travel by train or bicycle, to wire a message, take photographs and, at the end of the century, even to go to the movies, to fly with a balloon or an airship. As we know, this phenomenon was then growing throughout the twentieth century and today, in developed countries, in every house there is a washing machine, a vacuum cleaner, a radio, at least one television, personal computer and a number of mobile phones.
The rapid spread of technology among the population caused the spread of a new way of conceiving the world: a world in constant evolution, dominated not only by technological but also civil and economic progress; the vision of a static and cyclic world was universally abandoned, everybody saw with his own eyes the marvels of new technology and it was clear that the world would have never been the same. It is no coincidence that the theory of evolution was conceived and accepted this period and the same can be said of the appearance of science fiction as a literary and cinematographic genre.

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2.b.17 – There were also political and social consequences?

February 4, 2010 — Riccardo Sabellotti - Giacinto Sabellotti

monarca

There were also political and social consequences?

The rich industrial bourgeoisie soon became a social class apart, destined to be separated by the dominated people and to enter into direct competition with the nobility, mainly formed by wealthy landowners who held political power as a ruling class; industrialists were now richer than nobles and did not bear the traditional subordination to them. In the past, in case of political crisis, a king or a duke could be deposed by a popular uprising or a coup d’etat, but was then replaced with another king or a duke; now the supremacy of the nobles was instead contested in principle and considered a arrogance rather than a divine right; in short, there was the need for a new socio-political model and the new industrial culture supported democracy in opposition to aristocracy. This irreconcilable rivalry for the domination of society led to a series of uprisings and wars that covered Europe with blood, the most famous of which is the French Revolution of 1789; it was a troubled period during which the bourgeoisie came out a winner, albeit with considerable effort, and several nations took democratic Governments and institutions.
Another important result of the industrial economy was the sunset of slavery and serfdom. The category of workers culturally descended from that of craftsmen who always, good or bad, were paid for their work;  was also interest of the industry that the operators at the machines had a minimum education to be able to handle increasingly complex equipment and to specialize in specific tasks. The slaves, like those of the United States, were not paid, but maintained; the cost was roughly the same, but first they had to be bought at a price determined by previous owners, while the workers were engaged at no cost; slaves could not be dismissed, but only sold to another master and this was paradoxically beneficial to the slaves as assured survival, while it was inconvenient for owners who had to find a buyer (a form of dismissal even existed for slaves and was the killing of the same, but involve a significant economic loss); slaves were necessarily have an educational level equivalent to zero and their instruments were to be particularly simple and robust as many tended to damage them to vent their anger against the work and this made it difficult use them as laborers. With the serfdom, consisting of the masses of peasants at the service of the noble landowners, the situation, although improved, was very similar; peasants were not bought or sold, but otherwise had the same role of slaves and retained similar characteristics, were therefore also part of a very old economic system, which was now seen as an obstacle to progress.
The result of this incompatibility was the terrible war of secession in the U.S. around 1860, as a result of which slavery was abolished, at least formally. To the ancient agricultural economy, it was  sought to replace an industrial agriculture based on industrial model, the fields too were flooded by machinery therefore, the need of peasants was reduced and these had to convert into workers, similarly to artisans. The world of work was so shocked by the industrial economy and with it all the society and culture, just think of the great migration and the rapid and disorderly creation of large urban agglomerations.

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2.b.18 – Did public education mitigate the class struggle?

February 5, 2010 — Riccardo Sabellotti - Giacinto Sabellotti

scolari

Did public education mitigate the class struggle?

During the nineteenth century science and education became almost sacred values, and a manner consistent with the liberal Enlightenment thought, it began to introduce public education for all or at least for a wider range of people. The growing dissemination of education allowed a greater specialization and hence a greater variety of activities and products; the value of the individual worker, his working ability, increasingly depended on his professional training which, by making increasingly difficult to replace the worker himself, made the levels of wages consequently increase.
This helped to offset the tremendous social tension that was built between the new ruling class, that of industrial capitalists, and new subject class i.e. the worker proletariat. Modern industrial slaves in fact soon understood that they might be crushed by the gears of progress and that their conditions were quickly getting worse instead of improving; being included in production process just like machines, they were treated as such: the relation human-animal now become man-machine. Like their masters, they reacted in a violent way, with riots and occupations of factories, both producing or embracing a new culture, such as the socialist thought or one of its evolutions, like the anarchist or communist ideology. The workers of factories did what was impossible to slaves: to get organized to obtain a greater political weight; the result was a slow and suffered improvement of the life conditions of workers, who obtained, for example, the right to form trade unions, then the right to holidays, weekly day off and retirement. Therefore, if the first hundred years of industrial economy were tormented by the ideological war between liberal and aristocrat thought, the following hundred years were torn by a conflict between socialist and liberal thought: on this regard, we can recall the Russian Revolution of 1917, the war in Vietnam and the Cold war.

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2.b.19 – The emancipation of women is a consequence of industrialization?

February 6, 2010 — Riccardo Sabellotti - Giacinto Sabellotti

pilota

The emancipation of women is a consequence of industrialization?

To the liberation of the working class from economic oppression followed the emancipation of women. If the scientific exploitation of the workers was a recent phenomenon, the social oppression of women was a far more ancient tradition and therefore deeply rooted in culture; a culture related to agricultural civilization in which, in general, women had social and working roles well separated from those of men. In industry, however, women were workers like men, although paid less, and once the idea that workers could and had to claim rights through class struggle spread, by analogy was simple for women to identify themselves in a new class that was exploited that had to fight to be emancipated. The analogy was simple, but very difficult to be implemented: it had to  stop a millenary tradition of a male-dominated culture.
During the French Revolution yet, following the new principles of freedom, equality and brotherhood, in 1792 Olympia de Gouges wrote the Declaration of Rights of Women and Citizen “, but the new social system based on these principles, obviously not revolutionary enough to extend even to women, made sure that the author of the landmark of Women’s Empowerment was promptly guillotined. The process of empowerment of women is still ongoing as there is no country in the world that treats women just like men, although the western states, at least on paper, recognize equal rights. The same also applies to other types of discrimination such as racial and religious.
Today, in Italy, smoking in public or wear trousers is for a woman absolutely normal and is not conceivable a different attitude, but we must remember that in 1965 these behaviors were still regarded as transgressive.
Even the right to vote for women is a more recent conquest than people might think: in Italy for example, that right has been recognized since the end of the second World war, in the very civil Switzerland only in the seventies.
To the right to vote followed the approval of two other fundamental rights: the right to education, which only began to assert itself in late nineteenth century, and the right to the economic independence, which spread only in the second decade of the 20th century. Previously, universities were totally closed to women and wages, although earned by the women workers for their job, were managed by the men of the family, first by fathers and then by husbands.
The crumbling of traditions, so deeply rooted in millennia, in a few generations must teach us how a new culture, even deeply innovative, can spread quickly and make immediate consequences; it is up to us to believe in the possibility of a change, to work together for its implementation and to make sure that that the effect are beneficial for the individuals and the community.

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2.b.20 – Tertiary and third sector, two phenomena to be distinguished?

February 7, 2010 — Riccardo Sabellotti - Giacinto Sabellotti

mensa

Tertiary and third sector, two phenomena to be distinguished?

Tertiary is the  largest economic sector in which services are provided, i.e. all those complementary and ancillary activities of the primary (agriculture) and secondary (industrial) sector. This division in three economic sectors with their names, although universally popular, does not reflect the real and dynamic economic structure and creates confusion: the tertiary sector is not less important than the secondary, as well as this latter is not subordinate to the primary; numerical designations of sector not even reflect the sequence in which they appeared in the economic development because, while it is certainly possible to say that the industry has developed after agriculture, so one cannot say the same regarding the services sector compared to industry (just think of the advent of commercial, banking and catering services). Anyway, are we really sure that the economic sectors are three? Some distinguished the traditional by the advanced service sector and people starts talking about a Quaternary sector, but perhaps it would be better to abandon any numeric name (spread like a fashion) and return to call the various sectors with their name, i.e. with the one that reflects the economic activities that are grouped in it.
With the third sector is meant the sector of non-profit bodies, i.e. voluntary organizations, cultural associations, NGOs, etc., as defined in opposition to the public sector institutions and the private sector of business (in this additional fictitious tripartition, nobody wants to know what the first and Second sectors are).
The non-profit organizations operating in the socio-economic context are private organizations but produce goods or services on behalf of the public or communities. From an economic point of view, we must distinguish these entities from the business operating in the market because they do not have commercial purposes and, at the same, time we need to separate them from public institutions for their private nature. From a sociological point of view it is important instead to emphasize the cultural, ethical and motivational aspects that imply a deep personal involvement of the members.
Once clarity is made on definitions, it is important to note that in the modern or post-industrial western countries, a growing number of people find employment in the services sector with a decrease in both agricultural and industrial sectors; this phenomenon, following the criticized naming of sectors, is commonly defined tertiarisation of the economy.
Also the non-profit association phenomena are largely spread in the western countries; they tend to compensate the shortcomings in social services by the public institutions through the spontaneous self-organization of citizens and that, if on one hand partly alleviates the needs of the population, on the other increases the perception of tax pressure (which does not turn into public services) and the mistrust in institutions (unable to play their role).

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2.b.21 – Can a factory of immaterial exist?

February 8, 2010 — Riccardo Sabellotti - Giacinto Sabellotti

design

Can a factory of immaterial exist?

Since the sixties, in Western countries, began a period of fast economic expansion due to the reduction of economic inequality between the social classes; there was a general enrichment, witnessed by the increase in demand of both agricultural and industrial goods and services, which led to a great development in all economic sectors. It is immediately clear how the maintenance of such a prosperity is necessarily subject to a continuing expansion of demand for goods and services and therefore to the consumption of the same.
This phenomenon, called consumerism, led to a surplus of production compared to the needs of the population, despite the pervasive advertising persuasion that constantly induces new needs to feed the insatiable production apparatus. Whatever the positive consequences (like the increased availability of goods at decreasing prices) and negative ones (such as environmental pollution) caused by consumerism might be, now what creates value and competitive advantage in a good no longer consists only in its functional characteristics (the comfort of a garment, the taste of a drink, the versatility of a cellular phone, etc.) but increasingly in its ability to raise a rewarding emotion. When buying a new coat, probably we do not do it because the old has become worn or because the new one is warmer, but simply because we are attracted by a new line of fashion that gratifies our desire to strut with something wrapped around us. If the production of the coat material utilized by the manufacturing producer is only 15% of the item price, this means that the remaining 85% is represented by an intangible set of design, brand and status symbol; most price does not consist in the income of the material clothes factory, but in what we pay to the intangible factory of rewarding emotions.
Another phenomenon to be observed is that even within the manufacturing factory the intangible working is increasingly a more important work than material good processing. The physical processing of goods is less and less done manually by humans and entrusted to increasingly complex machines; machinery must be designed with new technologies, feed with new sources of energy, managed by new coordination flows, funded by new contractual models etc.. The work of man is therefore moving from the physical processing of goods to the production of knowledge that, through the designed machines, the discovered sources of energy and the designed ancillary services, will lead to the transformation of goods. Here a new kind of capitalism takes shape: the cognitive capitalism.
Knowledge is surely an intangible but also very particular good: it is a very easy to reproduce (with modern means of communication, its cost tends to zero), but difficult to produce the first time. We have seen how we have accumulated knowledge over time, but currently, given the importance of knowledge in all economic processes, also developing faster and faster, we need a new approach to adapt to the environment that changes: knowledge sharing. With this strategy it is created a genuine cognitive chain leading to the formation of a knowledge multiplier that supports the increasingly frenetic socio-economic development of man.

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2.b.22 – There is a revolution in progress?

February 9, 2010 — Riccardo Sabellotti - Giacinto Sabellotti

internet

There is a revolution in progress?

Today our economy is undergoing a profound structural adjustment based on new competitive principles such as openness, outsourcing, knowledge sharing and action on a global scale. The new concepts of collective cooperation and self-organization proceed alongside those of traditional hierarchy and control; new visions of the world and new economic models are imposing, introducing a new era in which, in addition to changing the rules of game, the nature of the game itself is changing.
It is surely the evolution of the Internet that allowed the advent of this revolution in progress, the development of a network that already connects more than one billion people and in which communities are continually strengthening, participative collaborations develop, experiences based on the concept of equality are shared, experiences among peers. All this should not be confused with altruism, nor with the non-profit or hobbies; to apply these new concepts often means developing new business ecosystems that further to generally develop innovation and growth, also produces huge profits for traders. Multinational companies like IBM, BMW, Boeing and Lego, to mention only some names, have accepted the new challenge and have already achieved great results. The involvement of consumers in the production stage (through the new tools represented by the chat lines, forums, blogs and wikis, as well as according to new criteria for opening proprietary resources, once kept secret by companies) has, for example, led to production of goods more fit to the needs of people and developed a sense of belonging to the involved community, which inevitably led to a significant increase in sales.
The transformation of companies providing components in partner companies of a joint production project has also enabled a significant compression of both cost and the times for the design and manufacturing of the product, although this takes place in different states of different continents, in a sort of global assembly line.
The generation of children born in the nineties is growing being accustomed to the interaction allowed by the Internet, instead of being just passive viewers of television and passive receptors of consumerism: the boys of the ” I generation” (I as I am, as Initiative, as the Internet) grow making researches, searching information, personally verifying the sources, cooperating with each other and creatively organizing anything. We cannot turn back: as for the other key events that characterized the cultural history of man, even now the new changes are spreading in the society, changing the way of thinking and behavior of people and may lead to a new social order and new institutions. 

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2.b.23 – What is the history of milestones?

February 10, 2010 — Riccardo Sabellotti - Giacinto Sabellotti

orologio

What is the history of milestones?

In order to be able to easily compare the periods of time that have passed one after the other in our history, we are going to repeat the game of comparing the duration of the whole path to a day and then insert the historical moments of interest:

00:00 hours the oldest traces of cumulative culture appear

14:38 hours the time the remains of the oldest homo sapiens are dated back

23:25 hours the end of last glaciation

23:37 hours emergence of agriculture

23:42 hours emergence of writing, the end of prehistory and birth of history

23:58:49 hours beginning of the industrial age

23:59:42 hours invention of the radio

23:59:58 hours spread of the internet and mobile phones

It therefore follows that until the last minute of our day, we lived hunting and gathering fruits as the last hominids that came before us; what we call history corresponds to about 18 minutes and the industrial age to 1 minute and 11 seconds. Also, if we consider that the oldest remains of our species date back to about 200,000 years ago, while the first intensive forms of agriculture appear about 6,000 years ago, it results that humanity has lived in tribes of hunters for 97% of its existence; finally, the period related to the industrial economy occupies the 0.15% of the history of our species. It is to be noted that cultural evolution had a sharp acceleration in the period of greater stableness of the climate and the ecosystem.

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2.b.24 – What is meant with evolutionary emergency?

February 11, 2010 — Riccardo Sabellotti - Giacinto Sabellotti

competizione

What is meant with evolutionary emergency?

When the life conditions of a species change, the same tends to evolve because of natural selection; this is due to the changes of environmental conditions that select genes in a different way; those that were irrelevant Individual characteristics are now valuable resources for survival.
A sudden environmental change, for example the end of a glaciation, causes a kind of evolutionary emergency for the species involved; there is a need to change, evolve, being subject to a new selective pressure. This period of discomfort, in which natural selection appears particularly hard, tends to end with the spread of genes adapted to the new environment; proceeding with adaptation, the selective pressures will decrease and, with it, the speed of evolution too. New positive mutations may appear, but this possibility will more and more decrease, evolution will slow down and the environment will appear less hostile; in time a new balance will be achieved.
Through the study of the animal world and of our history until the end of the last glaciation, it appears that this process can also be found in cultural development. The human being, through culture, has adapted himself to most different environments developing various types of lifestyles, devising the most disparate techniques for hunting, to protect himself from inclement weather and predators and so on, finally reaching a stable equilibrium with the environment; Eskimos, the Indios of the Amazon, the Kalahari Bushmen and all other tribal cultures that have survived over millennia with small changes, corresponding to the minimum mutations of the environment, are an example of it. Maintaining any other condition unchanged then, in the presence of a sudden change, evolution has its maximum speed when the emergency appears but decreases  in a more or less regular way in accordance with the emergence of new mutations. Why then the human cultural evolution is currently increasing its speed instead of slowing down? What happened from the emergence of agriculture onwards? Why we behave as if we were subjected to a perennial and growing evolutionary emergency?
All studies on the climate of the past tell us that cultural evolution has paradoxically began to accelerate in a period of particular environmental stability, a time when no new predators, new preys nor new competitor species appeared and when the climate was mild and more stable than ever. So what drives our cultural evolution when the environment where we live is always the same? To find the answer we just have to look around us: we now live in cities made up of many thousands or millions inhabitants, made of cement, asphalt, glass and steel; motorized vehicles moving anywhere and without them we don’t go anywhere; the main dangers to health and for survival are traffic accidents, accidents at work, use of drugs or spirits and the various diseases related to the thousand forms of pollution.
Are we sure we can say that the environment where we live is always the same of about 9-thousand years ago? We must admit that a village of made huts with 70 – 100 inhabitants living on hunting, gathering and rudimentary forms of farming or agriculture is an environment quite different from the present cities. The climate has not changed over the past millennia, but the environment where we live did; it has very deeply changed and shows no signs of stopping. Are we therefore really subject to a perpetual evolutionary emergency? The answer is Yes, because of cultural evolution of human environment.

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2.b.25 – Does cultural evolution influence the human environment?

February 12, 2010 — Riccardo Sabellotti - Giacinto Sabellotti

grattacieli

Does cultural evolution influence the human environment?

The environmental changes that have affected us after the last glaciation are not a consequence of climate, but of our own culture and of the ruthless competition between our peoples to contend the resources of the planet, a planet always smallest for a humanity ever more numerous.
We said that in recent times new preys or novel predators, or new competitors species have not appeared: this is not completely true and can be very misleading. The emergence of new preys in the ecosystem means in fact the availability of new food resources that increases the chances of survival, disturbs the old balances and involves then in various ways the whole environment; what is then the spread of the farming if not the appearance of new food resources? Their impact on our lives was much bigger than it has ever been the consequence of the introduction of a new prey or a new wild plant in our usual menu: colonizing the entire planet we have found countless times before new plants and new animals to hunt, but the agricultural revolution has done more than just increasing the food resources: it has profoundly changed our lifestyle and our economy, always been based on hunting and gathering. From this point of view the emergence of agriculture and farming are a more radical change of all earlier climate changes: nothing made us abandon before the tribal life, that had always accompanied our biological evolution.
So profound a change implies a great developmental thrust, i.e. the need to a fast adaptation, and we, according to our nature, have culturally adapted ourselves.
However, it is still to be explained why, after the spread of agricultural civilizations, cultural evolution has begun to slow down. As we have said for new preys, even the appearance of new predators or new competitors is particularly important for the development, as also affects our chances of survival; anyway, we know well that, from immemorial time, the various human populations, when not closely related to each other, consider and treat each other as if they were of different species; it has been always existed for humanity a kind of cultural speciation, even within the same community, where different social classes or castes clearly separated even sexually, through appropriate laws and conventions prohibiting mixed marriages, often appear. The old saying “homo homini lupus” means that man is the predator of other men and then shows us a sad and well-known fact: in the course of history new predators and new competitors actually appeared, only that they were cultural human species. Among different peoples there isn’t a total genetic and cultural isolation but it is enough to encourage behaviors typical of the relations between different species, such as predation and fierce competition.
Today we know that farming and agriculture are cultural changes that have caused further and even larger changes, as the abandonment of tribal life, triggering a chain reaction that feeds on its own; cultural evolution has begun to rotate on itself with increasing speed, like a dog that bites its tail.
From the agricultural revolution onwards, our life was separate from the old ecosystems and our environment has become increasingly artificial, i.e. increasingly dependent on our culture; the environment therefore evolves together with culture and the same goes for our predators and competitors who, being human, have our own capacity and speed of cultural adaptation.
There is something profoundly true when they say that man is separate from nature, if by nature we mean our original environment; anyway, in the new environments that we have generated, we are still subject to the laws of nature as the merciless struggle for survival and natural selection; the rules of the game remained the same, only now the game is played on the cultural rather than genetic field.
To win the race of survival, the adaptation speed is important, especially when environmental conditions are rapidly changing and if there are competitors to beat; this leads us to take maximum advantage from our ability to adapt culturally, causing anyway equally rapid changes in our artificial world and in our competitors, who are as good as we are in adapting to them. We can therefore conclude that from some millennia we really live in a state of perpetual and growing evolutionary emergency, fed and strengthened by our internal competition.

 

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2.b.26 – Does history really naturally moves towards the progress?

February 13, 2010 — Riccardo Sabellotti - Giacinto Sabellotti

gas

Does history really naturally moves towards the progress?

If it is true that cultural evolution is one frenzy top running always faster, we must do the following disturbing considerations:
a)    the emergence of evolution is growing, and requires increasingly quick and deep adjustments through a natural selection increasingly demanding, hard and changing; we have reason to believe that cultural post-agricultural evolution has resulted in time in worsening the average quality of life. Actually, life of slaves was probably much worse than that of their free ancestors and, considering that slaves constituted a significant percentage of the total population, the average quality in total significantly lowered; the same can be said with reference to workers of the first industrial revolution and today in relation to the people of the Third World, not to mention the Native Americans who, in the name of progress, were even exterminated. The books of history, originally, were born with a celebration of the deeds of kings and emperors and the successes of major military and economic power; these purposes, at least in part, are still present today, but we must not confuse progress achieved by one part of humanity, the dominant party, with the progress of all humanity; this of course unless you consider the slaves and the inhabitants of the Third World as if they were not human;
b)    What we usually call progress often is nothing but the solution to problems created by the previous progress. The real cultural progress really exists, obviously, and the progress had in medicine, in the human rights and in those of workers, are obvious examples of it but they represent only a small part of cultural evolution, which often occurs in isolated and occasional form, and nothing proves that is permanent. Examples of civil and cultural regression are not rare in history, it is enough to recall the Greek and Western Middle Ages;
c)    When we talk of progress, we often mean that of the group, the people or nation that grows in term of economy and territories, but not for all individuals that compose it.
d)    That the competition between human groups is the engine of cultural  evolution is confirmed by the fact that many of the most important technological innovations, as steel, radar, atomic energy and artificial satellites, were born to military applications and most of the others were made for industrial purposes, driven by economic competition;
There are therefore good reasons to question the assumption that history spontaneously tends towards progress; to the above considerations, other biological, demographic and economic then add: our cultural ecosystem, extending, has taken more and more space to nature, causing environmental disasters around the globe; the industry consumes non renewable resources, such as coal, and the renewable sources such as wood, are consumed too quickly, making them de facto non-renewable and then exhaustible; the demographic increase, increases earlier problems, fueling new consumption, causing growth of pollution and more frequent wars, with larger and more technologically efficient and ruthless armies; the two world wars of the twentieth century are an example well known to everybody; it was said then that, after so much horror, man had learned to appreciate peace and that those two wars had been a price to pay for having no more wars, but it was a short-lived illusion: in the next 50 years many wars have been fought, smaller in number of nations involved, but as inhumane and with even more terrible weapons.
Once again it is important to distinguish between evolution and progress: progress is a positive development, an improvement in a context that is rarely combined, as is usually lost in a different environment; evolution instead is not always positive and therefore is not required to accrue improvements: technology produces medical progress, but if this latter would regress, evolutionary developments would still continue; a negative evolution or regression is however, an evolution that proceeds forward in time, because no one dreams of saying that those birds that have lost the ability to fly, like ostriches and penguins, are less evolved of their ancestors; the evolution, either negative or positive, always goes on,  progress doesn’t.
The theory of natural selection applied to culture tells us that the evolution tends not to human progress: it may do so in some cases for survival, but the natural tendency of history towards a better future appears to be objectively only a myth, a fable, a hope and nothing more.

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2.b.27 – Culture is nowadays a problem or a resource?

February 14, 2010 — Riccardo Sabellotti - Giacinto Sabellotti

gabbia

Culture is nowadays a problem or a resource?

Cultural evolution is a natural phenomenon and may be benign or malignant as nature is; from the agricultural revolution it has been inserted into it a negative spiral path; now even in the rich and big cities, where the privileged of industrial economy live, those who have a right to see their progress in recent history, the overcrowding is in fact causing a number of psychological and social problems, crime is always growing, as well as stress, isolation and the alienation of the individual, depression and local pollution. Some call the current metropolis “asphalt jungles” to highlight some of its cruel aspects, others compare them to human ant hives, for their population density, but the famous zoologist and adviser Desmond Morris, who has long been the director of the zoo in London, has noted that animals in the jungle, which is their natural environment, do not suffer from nervousness, do not subject themselves to self mutilations, don’t have explosions of aggressiveness, let alone killing their own kind; when instead the same animals are forced into captivity and stored in surplus in the same cage, you found all these behaviors; in the case of animals that are forced into isolation instead we find depression, apathy and even sexual deviations. Coercion in an unnatural habitat leads in short animals to keep the same behavior found in human societies and this happens for the same cause: the reduction of living space or overcrowding and social isolation living in a city of strangers.
Therefore, to define a great city like a jungle of asphalt is definitely improper, it is much better to define it as a human zoo. We, the segregated of the human zoo, also added some aggravations: we close ourselves in a cage and often consider us free; we can improve our cage but instead we make it worst or devastate it, we are the cause of our problems, we are one the jailer of the other and do not realize this.
The modern zoo managers, knowing these phenomena, avoid to store too many animals in a small space or depriving them of social relationships; we do not have the same respect for ourselves, or rather it is our cultural evolution that doesn’t have it.
It is then possible to escape this downward spiral? With our number, our degree of specialization and our dependence on the community are also increased; citizens of today would not be able to survive if suddenly placed in a forest and even if someone taught them how to do, they would be too many, there aren’t as many forests to house them all; we can’t absolutely go backwards, we must go on making the most of our resources, including cooperation in a great community. Considering that the world is changing more rapidly than ever, for solving the problems of the future, including those related to cultural evolution, we have less and less time; it follows that the only hope of salvation, paradoxically, is a rapid cultural adaptation of both individuals and communities.
Culture is our only available resource in this situation of rapid changes, the source of all the major problems mentioned above, on the other hand, is a cultural evolution outside our control; from these two premises, we see that crux of the problem is not culture, but the lack of control of the evolutionary process, which proceeds abandoned to himself, only guided by pitiless laws of competition and natural selection. But we must remember that now there is a component of evolution which is under our control: it is the part due to our conscious and systematic study, led by science and reason, the one we defined as the artificial selection of culture that generally realizes the true progress for humanity. This component has already done much to mitigate the adverse effects of the vicious spiral in which we find ourselves, so that we confused it with the real progress, but is not yet strong enough to stop this spiral; the world continues to change at increasing speed and the negative aspects can no longer be ignored.
Fortunately for us, the progress of natural sciences, other fruit of cultural evolution, today allows us to understand the mechanisms of evolution itself and gives us the opportunity to be able to manage them to our benefit; today we have the opportunity to reinforce the positive part of evolution to block the negative aspects, we just have to learn to better manage our culture. Only when we succeed in this operation, having understood the mechanisms of evolution, this frenetic evolution will focus in the right direction and finally slow down.
In other words, noting that spontaneous progress is a myth, we must concluded that to achieve a better future we must work for it, deliberately and rationally caring for our interests, starting with the individual welfare. Again, culture comes as our main resource, as the view for the hawks and the smell for dogs, we cannot and must not do without it.

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